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Pakistan Today Editorial – 6th February 2016

How not to privatise

In the inimitable PML-N style

There have been protests, a complete shutdown of the national carrier, even three deaths, yet the situation isn’t any clearer than it was the first day. It is not even known for certain what the government’s real policy is. Is it moving towards privatisation proper, as promised to the Fund, or is it just interested in a stitch-up job for the moment; a restructuring that may or may not leave it open for sale at a later date? Still, there is little definitive in terms of a way out of the current paralysis.

One smart idea being floated is shutting down PIA altogether and erecting a new carrier in its place. But that, too, leaves the most important questions unanswered. What of the mountain of liabilities as they stand? And what guarantee that the successor airline would not be handled in similar fashion? Also, if the government has suddenly decided to do away with irritants appointees, then why not settle the staffing problem – and rein in losses – before embarking such adventures? Had successive government not stuffed PSEs with thousands of ‘political appointees’, they would not be haemorrhaging hundreds of billions every year.

There are more questions that PML-N must answer. What did the finance minister mean, for example, when he said nobody would be terminated in the restructuring nor would any salary package be altered? What exactly would they restructure then? And how long will the ruling party continue taking important decisions without consulting parliament or the opposition? It is this habit, more than anything, that has turned the PIA problem into a full blown political torrent. Whatever course the government now takes will be in reaction and bound to cause further controversy.

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A matter of genes

Lal Masjid breakdown

Thanks to powerful supporters in the federal government Maulvi Abdul Aziz has enjoyed indemnity for a long time despite flouting several laws of the land. Under pressure from public opinion the Aabpara police finally booked Aziz in two cases, one under the blasphemy sections of the PPC and the other related to criminal intimidation. The cleric who has a tendency to chicken out when under pressure, the escape in a Burqa during the siege of Lal Masjid being an example, told the media after getting bail that he was ready to forgive Pervez Musharraf and others in the Lal Masjid case. The statement caused furore in his camp.

The emerging split within the Lal Masjid clergy is the outcome of the fissiparous tendency rooted deeply in the genome of the extremist outfits. Clothed in ideological differences the splits are frequently caused by worldly motives, the desire to occupy the turf being one. The latest example is al Qaeda giving birth to IS which has turned into the mother organisation’s nemesis, occupying its space in Syria and Iraq. In Syria al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham are cutting each other’s throats for control over lucrative areas in the war-torn country. The Afghan Talban split into two hostile camps after the news of Mullah Omar’s death became public. The TTP broke into a number of factions like Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and the Sajna group. The Sipah-e-Sahaba met the same fate. A similar race is likely to start among the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa clergy for the control of funds and properties under the use of the mosque and the seminary.

Abdul Aziz is under strong internal pressure. In days to come there would be arm twisting from local and foreign donors. In case he recants his forgiveness for Musharraf, the Lal Masjid and Shuhada Foundation might remain united. In case he does not, the rift will lead to further infighting which could assume ugly proportions.

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Text book Darnomics

All over again

It seems the IMF has begun taking Dar sb’s appraisals of the economy at face value. So the ‘robust economic activity’ has led the Fund to okay the $500m odd tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF). All major targets have been met, as usual, and the finance ministry is set to record 4.5 percent growth, at least, in the outgoing fiscal. The finance minister has even better hopes for the economy, of course. He sees the GDP figure touching five percent before the year is out, along with improvement in taxation, energy, PSEs, structural reforms, and what not.

This was, as the minister said, the first time Pakistan completed 10 quarterly reviews with the IMF. And while it may not matter to him personally that each time the Fund had to be requested to accommodate downward revisions of almost all targets, such things do impact the economy. When you are behind the curve at every stop, there is only so far the economy can grow in real terms. Also, this is not the first time that Dar sb has projected an unlikely growth figure, and it usually takes him precious little time to forget the anomaly, before assuming a similar posture in the new year.

Such shop talk is not new, especially since Dar sb graced the finance ministry one more time. But to project an unrealistic policy posture amounts not only to misrepresenting facts, but also misguiding people. The government is in no position to take any sort of credit for tax reforms, energy reforms, and especially for handling public sector enterprises. It is such tendencies that have led people at large to coin the term Darnomics for the finance minister’s handling of the economy. If anything, the government has been lucky because of an extraordinarily accommodative exogenous environment, especially historically low oil prices. That, and remittances, kept the economy afloat, despite Dar sb’s best efforts, it seems.

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