Due to the confrontation and conflict with the Opposition the government is in a mess of its own making, pushing poor people towards the breakthrough point where the masses will no longer have patience. It is a total failure on all fronts, be it economy, politics, foreign policy, food security, inflation, job creation, etc. The rise in the prices of electricity, petrol, gas, sugar, atta, fruits, vegetables, etc. has worsened. The worst part is that the government has no idea how to deal with these issues.

No point in trying to separate the chaff from the grain: all chaff, no grain. The sad reality is that economy will further sink, thanks to the selected.

The government has to deal with looters and corrupt individuals first before focusing on the economy, otherwise they will never let the economy prosper.

Is it possible to pursue economic stability while at the same time creating massive instability in the political domain?

The incumbent government is engaged in talks with the IMF for the resumption of the program, which is already delayed since it was supposed to have restarted by September.

These talks face two critical plans. The first is a revenue plan to convince the IMF that they have a trustworthy road map on how to control the fiscal deficit that for the second year in a row has come in above eight percent of GDP, obviously unmaintainable position.

Another plan is about the circular debt that has crossed Rs2 trillion however the government argues that in recent months the acceleration is due to disrupted recoveries because of Covid-19 lockdowns.

As the talks and the efforts to draw up the plans necessary to satisfy the IMF, are continuing, a massive conflict seems to be fermenting between the government and the opposition parties, especially after the registration of sedition cases against the leadership of the opposition.

The hullabaloo over the FIR against former premier Nawaz Sharif, Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider and 40 other main leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) including Maryam Nawaz, Raja Zafarul Haq, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif, Pervaiz Rashid, Khawaja Saad Rafique, and others took a new turn when its complainant turned out to be a PTI worker with a criminal record.

In a related development, the Punjab government decided to strike the name of Raja Farooq Haider off the FIR apparently after criticism from different quarters which saw the move could be damaging for the Kashmir cause.

When the criminal record and pictures of the complainant, Badar Rashid alias Heera, with the PTI leadership appeared, the PML-N was quick to blame Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar for getting the case registered against its leadership. Rashid is said to be a PTI Labour Wing office-bearer.

Badar Rashid, who was arrested in some cases, also allegedly contested election for a union council chairman post on a PTI ticket.

PML-N Punjab information secretary Uzma Bokhari said Badar Rashid was a PTI UC chairman ticket-holder and his brothers had been booked in 15 FIRs. “A brother of Rashid worked in the NGO of Governor Sarwar’s wife. Chaudhry Sarwar who represents the federation has ordered registration of this FIR,” she alleged.

“This case cannot be registered without the approval of the federal government. No SHO could dare register the FIR against the top leadership of the country without the order of the government,” she said.

The PML-N lawmaker further said that federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s claim that PM Khan did not know about registration of the FIR was a “ridiculous defense”. “The sedition case against AJK PM Haider earned a bad name for the country. The PTI government has caused enormous damage to the Kashmir cause,” she said.

Several questions are being raised as to how come a station house officer (SHO) is empowered to register a sedition case against two former prime ministers, the AJK premier, three former army officers, a former Sindh governor, former defense and interior ministers, former law minister of Punjab and others without the order of someone from the top in the PTI government or in the powers that be.

In addition, a police station usually does not register a case unless it falls within its limits. The speeches of Nawaz Sharif were made at a multiparty conference in Islamabad and at the PML-N’s Central Executive Committee on Sept 20 and Oct 1 in Model Town, Lahore, but the case has been registered at the Shahdara police station. Capital City Police Office Umer Sheikh has offered no reply to these queries.

Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan dismissed reports that Rashid alias Heera was a PTI office-bearer. “The complainant has no link with the PTI. There are several people who have a photoshoot with the PTI leaders but that does not mean they become PTI workers,” he said.

Chaudhry Sarwar told a private TV channel that Badar Rashid’s pictures were not only with him but also with other PTI and PML-N leaders, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, and some members of the establishment. “But it does not mean I have any link with him as politicians meet many people every day,” he clarified.

In a tweet, PM’s special assistant Shahbaz Gill reiterated the government stance that it had no role in the registration of the FIR. He said why only one aspect [on whose request the FIR is registered] was being discussed [in the media] and why not on the real issue.

The government made us believe that it had nothing to do with the registration of these cases, that they had been registered by a private individual in his private capacity. Then it transpired that the individual in question was supposedly a worker of the ruling party and numerous images started circulating of him shaking hands and smiling broadly with various party leaders, especially Chaudhry Sarwar, the present governor Punjab.

Then surprisingly the name of one of the people mentioned in the FIR — Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Raja Muhammad Farooq was struck off at the behest of the Punjab government, but the rest of the names were left in place.

So the government had nothing to do with filing these FIRs accusing two former prime ministers of the country of ‘sedition’ based on logic so specious that only a handful of people in the country can claim to understand it. And it is a sheer coincidence that these FIRs are registered two days after the Prime Minister himself accuses Nawaz Sharif of “playing India’s game” and the PTI people are all over the airwaves advancing the idea that Sharif is a tool in the hands of the country’s enemies.

As if this was not enough, the other big party from the opposition — the PPP — has had fresh ‘corruption’ references filed against its leadership, including former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the former president Asif Zardari. The timing is unlikely to be a coincidence, as these developments come right after the formation of the anti-government PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement). The name has close resonance to the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the early 1980s.

So the order of the battle is falling in place between the government and the opposition, with each side escalating matters towards a confrontation.

In the meantime, the government’s own people are preparing to sit across the table from the IMF team and present credible plans for how they intend to raise more revenues, cut spending, raise recoveries in the power sector, adjust fuel prices to reflect global market realities, and arrest what looks like accelerating inflation.

At the same time, as the confrontation with the opposition is taking off, the government may well be signing off onto another adjustment program though perhaps not as harsh as the one it had to implement in its first year considering foreign exchange reserves are not in as dire a position today as they were back in August 2018.

Some in the top echelons of the leadership apparently understand this. Reports in the media suggest that in the cabinet meeting, some ministers raised concerns about the brewing confrontation while at the same time underlining rising inflation as a critical problem. In the days to come, they will be adding rising tax burden, interest rates, currency depreciation, fuel, and power price hikes to this list as well. We will see how much of an appetite for confrontation remains once the economic realities begin to assert themselves, one more time.

Without any political buy-in, the only way to make macroeconomic stabilization happen is through the bluntest of instruments, like interest rates and fuel and power pricing and taxation. Never mind tax reform for now. Never mind power-sector governance. Never mind the privatization of large entities like PIA or Steel Mill. When politics soaks up the oxygen, there is no space left for policy.

The nation is being deliberately pushed into a messy situation by both the government and the opposition, who remain on a collision course. When we violate the law ourselves, whatever short-term advantage may be gained, we are obviously encouraging others to violate the law; we thus encourage disorder and instability, thereby doing incalculable damage to our own long-term interests. Let us hope that all those involved revisit their strategy without delay.

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