Finance Minister Miftah Ismail had yet not finished revealing the additional measures, he was forced to insert in proposals for the fiscal 2022-3 to increase revenues, when the ‘breaking news’ began blinking on our mobile phones. It reported the crash of the Stock Exchange in Karachi.
Even for an economic-illiterate like me, the news smacked of communicating a loud NO by a peculiar group of investors relishing absolute monopoly over a definite set of profit-yielding businesses. They obviously disapproved the suggestion that to protect millions of shirtless Pakistanis from stifling poverty, the state
must collect more from the Super Rich of this country.
Even after ‘the breaking news,’ the finance minister didn’t appear wavering. Being a scion of a highly successful business family himself, he rather kept insisting that extraordinary pressures on our economy had forced such taxation. And there is no escape to it. Not only his own family, but the son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, a former prime minister, would also be paying the ‘super tax,’ he had introduced.
Miftah Ismail was delivering the winding up speech that finance ministers usually make after finishing of the general discussion in the National Assembly on budgetary proposals. The House is instantly adjourned after this speech.
It didn’t happen Friday. The Speaker had to give floor to senior ministers like Syed Khursheed Shah, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Khawaja Asif. All of them provided substantial support to the finance minister’s initiative. Doing this, they also took on ‘cartels’ of big businesses. The ministers had to admit that successive governments of Pakistan had consistently been facilitating and pampering these cartels. Instead of appropriately taxing their profits, they shamelessly kept borrowing and begging from foreign countries and global lenders to meet deficits in annual budgets. Finally a stage has come where even the “brotherly countries” are reluctant to finance our deficits.
After replacing Imran Khan through a vote of no-confidence the unity government of eleven parties, found it extremely difficult to avert ‘default.’ To prevent the same, it was forced to massively increase the prices of petroleum products. Yet, the lender of last resort, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was not satisfied. It kept pressing for additional measures to ensure revenue collection from domestic resources. That forced the need of enforcing ‘Super Tax’ on various cartels. But the minister after minister also kept assuring that the said tax would remain a one-time affair only. The government might be having enough resources in its kitty for getting back to ‘normal taxation’ by the time it starts preparing the next year’s budget.
The speeches, these highly experienced politicians delivered in the National Assembly Friday, clearly indicated that the unity or the coalition government was determined to continue ruling until the current National Assembly finished its constitutional term, sometime in August next year. It wouldn’t yield to the demand of earliest possible elections as the former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, had zealously been pressing since removed.
The speeches delivered by the said ministers sounded like a well-coordinated attempt to firmly scuttle widely spread whispers in Islamabad claiming that after reaching a deal with the IMF and having prepared a budget for 2022-3, the Shehbaz Sharif-led government had lost its ‘utility.’ Around three months from July 2022 were enough to put Pakistan back on a smooth track to economic rehabilitation. And a caretaker government of ‘technocrats’ could easily execute what had been promised in the budget and to the IMF. That would also create a comfortable space for holding of fresh elections sometime in October 2022.
Besides Imran Khan and his supporters, a significant section of our powerful “deep state” had also been promoting the idea of holding early elections. Former prime minister, the promoters of fresh elections seriously believe, has vigorously recharged his ‘base’ since removed through a vote of no confidence. His diehard supporters have also bought the story that these were not the “corrupt and rotten politicians of yesteryears” who were able to remove him by ganging up against Imran Khan on their own.
They prefer to believe that the US had not been feeling comfortable with ‘nationalist policies’ of Imran Khan. Washington felt doubly offended with his visit to Moscow, too close to the Russian attack on Ukraine. That provoked a US Under Secretary of State to convey a threatening message to our ambassador. When the threat failed to deliver, a motion of no confidence was employed to manage “regime change” in Pakistan.
Imran Khan and his supporters also believe, fervently, that a peculiar set of “Mir Jaffars” from within our national security outfits and the superior judiciary behaved like “slavish collaborators of the American conspiracy” to ensure the fall of Imran Khan. The story, which the former prime minister keeps drumming relentlessly, appears to have ominously deepened divisions in an already polarized society. It is mostly presumed that calling for the fresh elections would help cooling and healing.
But the set of politicians that had replaced Imran Khan need no tutor to know that since forming the government, they are fast being associated with an unbearable spiral of inflation. They are rather perceived as harbingers of doom and gloom. They would thus hate to face voters, until able to show some positive turnaround.
With a clear intent of drumming the said message, the ministers continued to repeatedly assert that rushing to the fresh election after removing Imran Khan, through the vote of no-confidence, was an obvious and easy option for them. Yet, they decided to form the coalition government to protect Pakistan from a fast approaching default and address issues leading to economic meltdown by taking “tough but unpopular decisions.” Doing this, they knew too well the “political cost” of the choices they were making.
After showing their willingness to deal with an apparently unmanageable challenge Pakistan faced, they now deserve more time to stay focused on turning over things to induce hope after course correction. And pushing them to early elections would not be fair in the given context.
We can easily imagine the ‘targeted audience’ of the speeches three very seasoned politicians had delivered in the National Assembly Friday. But personally I am yet not sure whether the ‘hard sell’ by them will deliver in the end or not.