As we head towards worst economic crisis of our history, the chemotherapy under the new IMF program is about to begin and the jury is still out if we will be added on to black list or remain on the grey list, a fast reconfiguration of political forces in the country is in progress as we speak. The interplay of the actions by the stakeholders will reshape how we go beyond this boiling hot summer.
Just after the rejection of the extension of the bail application of Mian Nawaz Sharif in the Supreme Court, an earthquake of 9.0 Richter scale hit the PML-N. The new leadership at multiple levels has now been catapulted mainly consisting of the Nawaz Sharif camp. The main line up of the players of the Shehbaz Sharif narrative has been diluted with Shehbaz Sharif on the retreat curve.
Shehbaz who is cooling in London has reportedly been told to withdraw from key positions starting with the Chairman Public Accounts Committee, a position hardly won after the paralysis of the parliament for many months. The heart and soul of the reshuffle happens to be the formal entry of Maryam Nawaz Sharif who has now been made one of the sixteen vice presidents of the party.
Everybody knows that as the vice president she will be more equal than other vice presidents in the party. Ms Sharif who had successfully launched the election campaign of her late mother last year has broken her silence she had adopted after her release on bail last September and reappeared with a new party baton, holding a party position for the first time.
On late Tuesday evening, May 7, when Hamza Shehbaz drove Nawaz Sharif back to Kot Lakhpat jail after his temporary bail ended, it was clear that he was only chauffeuring elder Sharif while Maryam seated with the former Premier was in the proverbial driving seat holding her father’s forte from now on.
In other adjustments, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, hounded these days by NAB, has been made number two in the party while firebrand Khawaja Asif has been made the parliamentary leader of the party. In addition, Rana Sanaullah, a party veteran, known for his organizational and agitational skills, has been made the party President of the Punjab, the major power base of the party.
New placements on the party chessboard clearly say that the party, now disappointed in getting any relief from the powers that be, is finally showing a resistance face. It does not mean that the party will be on the streets reminiscent of the GT road long march of Nawaz Sharif. It also does not mean that party will revert back to anti-establishment rhetoric. It only means that party is getting ready for the next opportunity.
The party insiders believe that the incompetence and total failure of the PTI government led by Imran Khan will sooner rather than later provide an opportunity to the party when Imran Khan will be sent packing. Soon there will be a big power void and they have to prepare for the round when it knocks on their doors, they believe.
All these changes on the PML-N chess board are happening at a time when the provincial governments both in the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are in a royal mess. Every stakeholder that matters has poked and prodded the Prime Minister to get rid of the indecisive and inexperienced chief ministers of both the provinces as both provinces are being run by an assortment of different power lobbies.
The recent Local government that has scrapped the existing local governments a year and nine months earlier in the Punjab has given lot of heartaches to the PML-N. The funds and the developmental activities of the local governments in the provinces were frozen soon after the PTI government took over last summer. For the remainder of a year and nine months, all the developmental budget will be spent by the MPAs and MNAs and the bureaucrats will supervise the local governments till next elections of the bodies, we are told.
The 22ndIMF program is being finalized in a bizarre economic performance of the PTI government with the slowest revenue collection in two decades, the GDP growth has almost been halved, inflation already in the double digits and rising, massive decline in the foreign direct investment, massive public debt and borrowing from the state bank and the private banks, circular debt touching Rs 1.6 trillion and the fiscal deficit crossing 7%, the highest ever and total crashing of the stock market.
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The worst has yet to come. The broad contours of the IMF program forcing the government to add new taxes over Rs 700 billion in the very first year and raising of the electricity tariffs and natural gas prices for the third time in 9 months besides making top regulators OGRA and NEPRA “independent”, bringing in IMF representative in Egypt as the State Bank Governor and the tax consultant of the big business as the new FBR Chairman, besides removing Asad Umar, the main architect of PTI finance policy and replacing him with Dr Hafeez Shaikh is shaping up the hardest patch of our history. That means a massive hurricane of the inflation, price hike and unemployment of millions of people is about to hit the country.
This will coincide with the impending FATF action, many believe, would either keep us on the grey watch list or worse throw us in the black hole of the black list. New regional tensions like Iran-US row amid Israel and Gulf monarchies siding with the US, Afghan end game and possible re-election of Modi may complicate it further.
With PPP leadership already pushed to the wall, JUI-F itching up for a mass agitation, PTM challenged by the coercive measures of the state, an explosive situation is emerging that is making many nervous. One thing is sure. The current situation is untenable. Will we see any peaceful change within or a violent change without the parliament will be clear with the passage of time. Till then everybody will be pins and needles.
The views expressed in this op-ed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Surkhiyan.