The government’s recent decision to privatise PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills raises an important question about the style of governance adopted by different parties and their leaders and creates doubts about their economic policies.
It is strange to notice that all leaders – whether they are democrats, dictators, populists or right-wing extremists – want to implement the policy of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation. All of them tend to offer the gospel of the free market as a panacea. All of them love to leave the people at the mercy of the ruthless forces of the market without thinking about its effects on the millions of people who are condemned to a life of misery and abject poverty.
The much-vaunted market forces were unleashed by the dictatorship of Ayub Khan that led to the reign of oligarchs, creating the country’s 22 richest families. The populist Bhutto regime tried to use socialism to muster support against these families. But Bhutto ended up filled his own party with feudals and retrogressive elements. General Zia’s dictatorship opened the door to private plundering through the policy of denationalisation, which also paved the way for privatisation.
However, it was Bhutto’s daughter who ended up following in the footsteps of his father’s tormentor in economic affairs. Benazir Bhutto proudly launched the process of privatisation on the pretext that the sale of state-owned concerns would be used to repay loans. In fact, when the process was launched, the country’s debt stood at around $20 billion.
Despite the privatisation of hundreds of state-owned entities, the burden of our debt is constantly on the rise. The total debt and external liabilities of the country stood at around $20 billion in 1990 and are likely to soar to over $100 billion soon. So, the PPP’s claim that state-owned enterprises were sold out to repay loans flies in the face of reality. The PPP ended up following in the footsteps of its tormentors in economic matters.
The PML-N was an arch enemy of the PPP during the late 1980s and 1990s. But when Nawaz Sharif assumed power in the early 1990s, he missed no opportunity to blindly follow the principles of laissez faire that his rival had introduced during the first government of the Sindh-based party. The industrialist-turned-politician zealously followed the pro-market policies of his predecessor. During their subsequent tenures, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif introduced vindictive policies against one another. But the economic policies of both rival leaders remained unchanged. Both of them repeatedly propagated the gospel of the free market.
Musharraf declared both Nawaz and Benazir Bhutto corrupt and heaped scorn on their respective styles of governance. However, he also followed the much-vaunted free-market doctrine that his predecessors subscribed to. The general privatised some of the most profit-making entities in the country and rendered thousands of workers jobless.
The PPP government put a halt on privatisation when it assumed power in 2008. But it devised a clever method of privatising state-run institutions. Many critics have claimed that the party allegedly showered undue favours on its cronies by handing over state-run entities to them under the guise of public-private partnerships. The PML-N also had the determination to continue the economic policies of the PPP government and the Musharraf regime.
We have a PML-N government in Punjab that is building mega projects like the Orange Line Metro Train. The PTI is squandering money on this capital-intensive programme in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while the PPP in Sindh is also pumping billions of rupees into the Green Line project, which might improve water, sanitation, education and health facilities in Karachi.
It is quite disturbing to note that Lahore does not have a water treatment plant. The chief minister of Punjab had assured the Supreme Court that such plants would soon be installed in Lahore. However, his party has ruled the province for over 15 years and the city has yet to be equipped with this basic component of civic infrastructure.
Karachi’s citizens have also been waiting for this facility for decades. But it appears that their dream will never turn into a reality. A number of localities in Peshawar and several parts of KP lack the basic amenities of life – pure drinking water, sanitation and a proper sewerage system. But it appears that the KP government is busy planning the sale of two lucrative state-owned entities. The provision of quality education, health and decent housing does not feature in Pervez Khattak’s list of priorities.
Ironically, all provincial governments have repeatedly claimed that these facilities have been improved. But no politicians would like to send their children to government schools. They cannot afford to see their loved ones drinking water from government water supply schemes that are utilised by millions of Pakistanis. No member of the ruling elite is willing to be treated at overcrowded government hospitals where hundreds of Pakistanis lose their lives due to a paucity of resources, staff negligence and inadequate facilities.
People fail to understand the difference between various members of the ruling class because all of them want to disburden themselves from providing the basic necessities of life, All of them are bent on selling state-owned concerns. They are keen on rewarding their cronies and want to blindly follow the dictates of international monitory institutions.
Our external debt is surging; the circular debt is repeatedly rearing its ominous head; the prices of essential commodities are skyrocketing; the budget deficit is broadening; and exports are shrinking. Human development indicators have also brought shame to the entire country. More than 60 million people live below the poverty line and 67 percent of the population does not live under a concrete roof. Over 80 percent of diseases are caused by contaminated water. More than 20 million children are out of school and over 40 percent of them suffer from stunting.
If all our rulers are turning a blind eye to the plight of people; giving priority to mega projects and ignore the basic necessities of life; and repeating the mantra of the free market economy, then we must find the real rulers who are calling the shots in the land of the pure. It is the policies and not the rhetoric of ours rulers that reflects their intentions. So, we need to determine who hands them these policy directives. The policy-givers are the real rulers of Pakistan.