All Newspaper editorials in one place – February 12, 2024





February 12, 2024

Parliamentary affairs

The last session of the 17th Lok Sabha served as a preparatory forum for polls


With the conclusion of the last session of the 17th Lok Sabha on Saturday, the bugle has been sounded and the battle lines drawn for the general election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mounted a sharp attack on the Congress and its leaders in his various interventions during the session, while avoiding criticism of any of the regional parties or their leaders. After the unprecedented suspension of 146 members during the winter session, the last session began on a more cheerful note. All members were back in the House, including the 14 Members of Parliament (MP) whose cases were referred to the privilege committees of the two Houses. The committees cleared their names, just ahead of the session. But Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP and leader Sanjay Singh, who was recently re-elected to the Upper House, could not take oath on the ground that the breach of privilege cases against him moved in his previous term are still pending. The Rajya Sabha privileges committee has not even scheduled a meeting.


The session was extended by a day to debate a resolution on the Ram Temple. The Left parties were the only ones to take a clear stand in their boycott by announcing that they would not be a party to any communal agenda. The other Opposition parties, not willing to invite any controversy, came up with different reasons to stay away. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, in the Lok Sabha, cited the plight of Tamil fishermen, and, in the Rajya Sabha, focused on the Centre’s indifference towards the destruction caused by flooding in the State to stay away from the proceedings. The Trinamool Congress and AAP MPs were not to be seen. The last five years have been unprecedented in Indian parliamentary history. Parliament shifted to newer and much larger precincts, amid criticism of its design, from the British-era building. Paradoxically, just as parliamentarians got more room, the 17th Lok Sabha witnessed the continuous erosion of the role of the Opposition. In a first, the Lok Sabha functioned without a Deputy Speaker — a post that is conventionally occupied by the Opposition — for the entire term. The five years were also marked by a steady decline in the Opposition’s bench strength in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress has only 30 members in the Upper House, far behind the 93 members from the Bharatiya Janata Party. The government had its way and say, while the Opposition spent time on the sidelines.






February 12, 2024

Conjuring a catharsis

The White Paper on the economy is a political diversion


The Finance Ministry, in a White Paper on the economy placed in Parliament, has accused the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of 2004-2014, of botching the economy. The Ministry has sought credit for the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s repair and reform job since 2014 for lifting India to the world’s fifth largest economy from one of the ‘Fragile Five’ 10 years ago. It listed 15 “high-profile” UPA “scams”, including coal, 2G spectrum, the Commonwealth Games and even a ₹44 crore misappropriation case in the Jammu & Kashmir cricket board. Hours before this, the Congress released a Black Paper on “10 years of Anyay Kaal (Era of Injustice)”. It highlights this government’s “economic blunders” such as demonetisation (something the White Paper is silent on), the flawed GST regime, the unemployment situation with stagnant wage growth, farmers’ distress, and high inflation despite crude oil prices being lower than in the UPA’s times. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman questioned the UPA’s ‘extra-constitutional’ governance system and Dr. Singh’s failure to undertake reforms that were still pending after the 1991 liberalisation rush, and said this government delivered on those reforms and beyond. She even invoked cases from the 1950s and 1970s to argue that corruption runs in the Congress’s DNA.


The government’s assertion that the White Paper will serve as a record for posterity for India’s youth to know the efforts it took to undo the UPA-era damage and “restore India’s glory”, belies its anxiety that the young may not be adequately convinced about recent years’ outcomes. That may explain the curious absence of real GDP growth and employment rates in the UPA and NDA years from the data-laden paper, which even compares waste volumes processed by urban local bodies. The paper argues the UPA failed to deliver GST and use Aadhaar effectively, but the NDA embraced and delivered on both. That a few BJP States, including Gujarat, had reservations about GST and Aadhaar at the time is a lost nuance. The NDA had a resounding majority twice, but has yet to find a consilient approach to undertake critical pending factor market reforms such as on land (an ordinance approach was abandoned in 2015) and labour (new Codes are yet to kick in), while it had to backtrack on farm sector reforms. The UPA was a rainbow coalition that navigated tricky terrains such as telecom and insurance FDI liberalisation and the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal. India’s reform journey has been marked by successive governments building on past efforts, rather than reversing course, and, in hindsight, many opportunities may be considered missed or bungled. The paper seems to be an attempt to temper voters’ higher expectations from a government with a majority mandate. But a pointed finger leads to three pointing right back. It is no surprise that the White begot Black.






February 12, 2024

Three Ratnas

Honour to Rao, Swaminathan and Charan Singh is well-deserved and politically timed It should also spur introspection


The timing — ahead of Lok Sabha polls — of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to confer the Bharat Ratna on Chaudhary Charan Singh and PV Narasimha Rao, both former prime ministers, may be political. While the first was a leading anti-Congress voice from the late Sixties to the mid-Eighties, the latter is someone whom the current ruling dispensation has sought to portray as having gotten a raw deal from the grand old party. But there is no doubt that both — and the third recipient of the honour, the agricultural scientist, MS Swaminathan –- fully deserve the nation’s highest civilian award. Narasimha Rao was the father of India’s economic reforms. The success of the policy changes he unveiled in 1991 — opening up the economy to the world and private investment, both domestic and foreign — can be measured not only by the country’s GDP growing some 13-fold, from $270 billion to $3.5 trillion, since then, but also by subsequent governments not really reversing direction.


While Rao’s market-oriented liberalisation measures unleashed the “animal spirits” of entrepreneurs in India, the other two men were messiahs, no less, for the farmers of Bharat. Charan Singh’s three landmark pieces of legislation in Uttar Pradesh — dismantling the zamindari system of intermediaries between the cultivator and the state, enabling consolidation of fragmented holdings, and enforcing land ceiling — transformed the agricultural economy of northern India during the 1950s and 1960s. It helped create a new socially and politically empowered middle peasant class in the region. Their economic fortunes rose with the Green Revolution, whose key architect was Swaminathan. He was the first to recognise the potential of the new high-yielding wheat and rice varieties — less tall with strong stems that responded well to more fertiliser application and didn’t bend when their ears were heavy with well-filled grains — and growing them in India. He also strengthened the national agricultural research system (NARS) that has helped boost yields in other crops as well, including through breeding of varieties resistant to pests, diseases and abiotic stresses.


The awarding of Bharat Ratna to the three eminent persons should also be a moment of introspection. Reforms have delivered growth, but not lessened poverty as much as was hoped. Rao wouldn’t have been happy with rising inequality and continued misallocation of resources towards inefficient producer and consumer subsidies. In today’s times, he may have batted more for direct income support. Charan Singh’s middle peasant has become a prisoner of past success and needs a new formula for boosting incomes through crop diversification, improved input use efficiency and cutting out intermediaries in the marketing of produce (similar to the oppressive zamindars of yore). The best tribute to Swaminathan would be to restore the NARS to its former glory. Farmer interest is better served by more money for research and infrastructure investments, not under-pricing of fertiliser, electricity and water.






February 12, 2024

After the poll

Question in Pakistan: What can army do with a pliable but politically illegitimate government vis-a-vis nation’s crises?


There is no end to the political tragedy of Pakistan, with yet another election manipulated by its army ending in a deliberately engineered stalemate. As in the 2018 election — which saw a hung national assembly and the army’s construction of a majority in favour of Imran Khan — Pakistan’s army chief, General Asim Munir now directs the construction of a new ruling coalition. But the electoral process under Gen Munir has become an even bigger farce than before, thanks to brazen rigging before and after polling. The Pakistan army’s new model of a “hybrid” government — in which the GHQ in Rawalpindi has an expansive role in governing the polity and economy — failed to deliver after the 2018 elections. This time, the puppet government installed by Gen Munir will have even less credibility.


At the heart of the problem has been the deepening contradiction between the massive popularity of Imran Khan and the army’s determination to destroy his party and persona. Having built up Imran Khan as the alternative to the traditional leadership, the army was upset with Imran’s attempt to strike out on his own and sought to bring him down. Despite handing him long sentences for corruption, leaking state secrets, and adultery, and barring his party (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) from contesting the elections, Imran-backed independents have gained the largest plurality of seats in the National Assembly. Without the alleged rigging during the counting of votes, it is entirely plausible that Imran Khan would have got a two-thirds majority in the Assembly. As it put down Imran Khan, the army facilitated the return of exiled Nawaz Sharif, a three-term prime minister who was ousted from power in 2017 on corruption charges. Yet, it has also been clear the army will not allow Nawaz Sharif a free hand to run the country. His Pakistan Muslim League has emerged as the largest single party, but behind the PTI-backed independents. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has also won a significant number of seats.


By engineering a fractured mandate — the PTI knocked out, and the PML cut down to size, Gen Munir will have a big say in the formation of the next government, in which no civilian leader can threaten the army’s dominance over the polity and its preferences in policy-making. Nawaz Sharif has claimed the right to form the new government and has appealed to other parties to join him. The next few days will see intense bargaining between PML and PPP under the supervision of the army to structure the new coalition and the distribution of the fishes and loaves of government. But by keeping Imran Khan locked up and the PTI out of power in a rigged process, it is not clear how long the new government might last. In the near term, the big question is what Gen Munir could do with a pliable but politically illegitimate government under him in addressing the challenges facing the nation. These include unstable borders, the return of violent religious extremism, and a tottering economy. Going by the army’s historical record, there is no reason to hold one’s breath.






February 12, 2024

Listen To The Young

Pakistan’s youth almost upset crooked plans of its grizzled generals. Lesson for old & powerful everywhere


Pakistan’s election is similar to matches played by the country’s cricket team. You never know what to expect. An election most of the world likened to a fixed match has veered off script. Thank Pakistani youth for it.


Charged up by Imran Khan’s rhetoric of sweeping away the old order, we have an extraordinary situation where independents (read Imran’s PTI supporters) have bagged more seats than established political parties.


Tidal waves of idealism | It follows a familiar pattern of waves of change started by idealism of youth. Think of Vietnam War protests in US. Student marches probably did more to change US policy on the war than military’s battlefield performance.


When young ask for change, it immediately translates into creative output in popular culture. Books, movies and music channelled youth critique of a jaded cynical establishment. Never mind that many of the young protesters later went on to represent another cynical order. Nothing energises society like young people who set off to change it.


Cinema as subversion | Passion is the motif in works of young idealists. Indian cinema’s ‘new wave’ that began almost six decades ago was a self-styled pursuit of artistic truth. Subversion was the real truth here as state financing was used to make movies that took on the establishment. You have to be young and crazy to have the chutzpah to pull that off.


Rock on | If there’s one enduring and universal symbol of youth power, it’s rock music. With its origins in US, appealing to youngsters frustrated by social shackles, it just blew away conventions. Rock endures and has made its way into popular culture across the world. Think of a protest movement anywhere, there are bound to be images of outraged youth marching to the beat of high-octane music.


Change’s possible | In early 1970s, a young American dropout wandered along the hippie trail. He spent some time in India. Not long after that the young hippie co-founded a company that would change customer experience in electronics. That Steve Jobs made Apple the company it is despite being a counter-culture nomad in his youth tells greybeards something – older generations should look deeper into what they think are apparent naivete and aimlessness of the young. There are always undercurrents and it is wise to be alive to it. For it’s often ‘unsophisticated’ dreamers who bring change.





February 12, 2024

Dig Baby Dig

Critical minerals race is on. India must work with US-led group to secure these strategic resources


It’s good that GOI is looking to press the accelerator on securing supply chains in critical minerals. Critical mineral block proposals received by partner countries in the US-led Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) will be checked out by PSUs, a first step to their acquiring critical mineral assets abroad.


Critical alliance | India joined MSP in June last year during Modi’s US visit. The 13-country group wants to jumpstart public and private investments in critical mineral supply chains globally. That’s code for working together to explore, extract and process stuff like lithium, cobalt and graphite. These power industries of today and tomorrow – everything from mobile phones and EVs to semiconductors and aerospace need them.


China all the way | What adds to complications in acquiring critical minerals is their uneven concentration. Few countries have the high tech needed to extract and process them. China produces 60% of the world’s rare earth elements. 69% of cobalt is mined in DR Congo, but China processes 65% of global supply. Australia is lithium king with 52% of global output, but China processes58% of this critical mineral needed for batteries. Get the drift?


Strategic scramble | So the global minerals race is on. Given Chinese domination, West wants to secure supplies and friend-shore extraction and processing. With India also locked in a strategic tussle with China, teaming up with MSP partners made sense.


Indian gains | India has massive geological potential for critical minerals. But this remains largely unproven. And current dependence on China is problematic. So the way out is to collaborate with high-tech MSP players like US, Japan, Korea, Australia, etc, secure overseas assets and encourage Indian private players to get into the game – they face too many restrictions. PSUs and private companies must work together to get their hands on as much of critical minerals as they can.






February 12, 2024

Ratan Tata, Crusader Against Speciesism

Vasudhaiva kutumbakam is about all living things


Ratan Tata has benefited many fellow humans through his many enterprises. He has also benefited much from them. But beyond these largely transactionary exchanges, Tata has been an exemplar of viewing ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ — world as family — not narrowly confined to humans but to all living species. Tata Trusts’ announcement last week of the launch of a state-of-the-art healthcare centre for animals in Mumbai is firmly in line with this world view. Tata’s personal fondness for nonhuman animals — especially dogs, whom he refers to as his friends, and not pets, underlining liberté, egalité, fraternité in the truest of terms — is based on a larger, political belief of ownership of Earth by all its inhabitants.


Like sexism, racism and casteism, speciesism — a term coined by psychologist Richard Ryder in 1970 to describe the belief that humans are the hierarchic apex of all life — is deeply ingrained in almost all societies, leading to treatment of non-human animals as ‘sub-creatures’. Studies have shown that like with other -isms, young human children are bereft of speciesism, and this anthropocentric bias is developed by societal beliefs over time.


Even as Darwin onwards, rational humans have come to realise that, biologically-speaking, there is no ‘magical essential difference’ between humans and non-human animals, why, then, do humans, in Ryder’s words, ‘make an almost total distinction morally’? It is the need to empathise beyond one’s own group — whether family, caste, ethnicity, nation and, indeed, species — that made Emperor Ashok grant, in one of his edicts, all non-human animals rights of citizenry, providing them equal protection as to his human citizens. Tata’s announcement of quality healthcare to non-human animals is, in this sense, Ashokan. And it is a much-needed, tangible step towards resisting the pervasive speciesism among us, co-inhabitants and co-owners of this world, one among many Earthlings.






February 12, 2024

India All Set to Wear Development Speedos


The PM’s assertion at ET Now GBS that India’s development over the next five years will speed up is based on two assumptions. One, that NDA will return to power with a bigger majority this summer, a likely outcome going by BJP’s showing in recent state elections. Two, India’s economic momentum can only gain from policy continuity of the previous decade. This, too, is a foreseeable eventuality given this gov’s record of structural transformation and crisis management.


Broadly, what has worked is Narendra Modi’s ability to fix welfare delivery and pivot a larger share of government expenditure into infrastructure. As scale of both addressable issues becomes more manageable in the future, outcomes are bound to accelerate. Government capex will eventually taper, but it will have to set off a self-reinforcing cycle of private investment. Development goals such as poverty eradication will also become easier to achieve as less government resources are needed by dwindling numbers. Rising consumption by a population newly equipped with social security should sustain investment, as also policy-induced encouragement to exports. India’s working-age population gives it a unique advantage for its growth surge.


This is the baseline scenario, which should ratchet up development. Then there are other drivers such as tech diffusion and climate mitigation that Modi has leveraged to enhance economic productivity. His vision for India in the 21st century is a considerable advancement of how the country saw itself a decade ago. Some parts of that vision are yet to be unveiled. But it is a safe premise that he intends to hit the ground running, if he makes a third term. The underlying theme will, of course, be higher growth with redistributive efficiency. Both factors contribute enormously to governance reform. That could be the best guarantee on offer for Indians to get rich before they grow old.





February 12, 2024

Code for change

IBC needs systemic rather than legal reforms


The recently tabled Standing Committee ‘action taken’ report on the working of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code makes suggestions at two levels: first, on the functioning of the agencies involved in the process such as the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), the resolution professionals, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India; and second, on the need to review the “design of the code” itself. The latter finds a brief and almost cryptic mention towards the end.


Indeed, it is worth wondering whether the problems that beset the IBC process — delays in resolution and poor value realisation — require changes in the Code itself. The IBC has been amended on many occasions since its inception in 2016, and the necessary provisions would appear to be in place to achieve the desired improvement. For now, the priority should lie in fixing the governance aspects. The report makes pertinent points on the bench strength of the NCLT. It credits the Centre with plugging vacancies at the NCLT, saying that the bench strength today is over 90 per cent of its sanctioned strength of 62 members. But since there are “perpetual vacancies” on account of retirement and completion of members’ terms, the sanctioned strength needs to be raised — to address “the huge pendency of more than 20,000 cases in NCLT at the end of every year”. However, the NCLT is hobbled not just by bench strength issues, but also by its style of working. Its members, judicial and technical, could do with more domain knowledge of bankruptcy matters in an evolving business landscape — such as the metrics of valuing service-sector companies. A recruitment process that encourages young professionals, given the technical and legal expertise in bankruptcy in India, could infuse the NCLT with a sense of contemporaneity.


Dedicated NCLT benches to deal with bankruptcy matters are needed, given the expertise involved vis-a-vis corporate affairs on the whole (now benches hear all corporate cases) as well as the sheer number of bankruptcy cases. With specialists in place, members need not be slotted as ‘judicial’ and ‘technical’. In the US, for instance, there is just one judge on every bankruptcy bench. India can move towards that set-up so that cases can be dealt with swiftly and correctly. Appeals for appellate review can come down; delays at the admission stage can be addressed.


The report says that the competence of resolution professionals, who are expected to run the affairs of the ‘sick’ company till it is revived or liquidated, prepare an ‘information memorandum’ on its status and scout for buyers, leaves much to be desired. While the IBBI does crack down on RP malpractices, a capacity-building body that assesses them periodically is needed. These steps could bring down resolution time from over 650 days (against the legal limit of 330 days), improve valuations and raise revival prospects of concerns vis-a-vis liquidation.






February 12, 2024

Black and white

India must build on improved macroeconomic stability


There is virtually no debate that the Indian economy was in a difficult spot by 2013-14, the last year of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, and things have improved since. Thus, the White Paper, presented by the Union government last week, has limited policy relevance. India’s problems were exposed when the US Federal Reserve, after years of quantitative easing, hinted at reducing the pace of monetary easing in the summer of 2013. A significant widening of the fiscal deficit after the global financial crisis led to higher inflation and a current account deficit that was running close to 5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012-13. Besides, in a bid to revive growth, banks were encouraged to lend, often to unsustainable projects, which resulted in high levels of non-performing assets. Much of this has been recognised over the years.


Meanwhile, the government of the day was embroiled in several corruption and other scandals. The Supreme Court, for instance, in 2012 cancelled 122 telecom licences. While the judgment is still debated, it did reflect the political and business environment of that time. Confronted by problems from all sides, a coalition government couldn’t take tough decisions. It did try to control the damage through a change of the guard in the Ministry of Finance in 2012, but by then it was too late. The US Federal Reserve’s hint of tapering bond purchases led to panic in global financial markets — popularly known as the “taper tantrum” episode — and drove India to a near currency crisis. Things began to stabilise after the leadership change at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in September 2013. The RBI announced plans, among others, to shore up foreign exchange reserves, including through borrowing from non-resident Indians, strengthening the monetary policy framework to address inflation, and improving the recovery of loans.


To its credit, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government prioritised the task of strengthening macroeconomic stability. Along with improving the fiscal position, it made two very important decisions. First, the adoption of flexible inflation targeting sent a strong signal regarding policy commitment to price stability. Second, the implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) tilted the balance of power in favour of lenders. For the first time, promoters of even large firms faced the risk of losing control. The IBC, to be sure, remains a work in progress because it’s taking considerably longer to resolve bankruptcies. Nonetheless, it has improved credit culture and, along with substantial capital infusion in public-sector banks, helped address the twin balance sheet problem. The NDA government has implemented various reforms to increase the ease of doing business.


Importantly, course correction by the RBI in terms of managing currency and foreign-exchange reserves also helped a great deal in strengthening macroeconomic stability. Yet, despite undisputed improvement on the macroeconomic front over the last decade, attaining higher sustainable growth will require sustained policy interventions. For instance, though largely because of the pandemic, India’s public debt and general government deficit remain elevated. India has struggled to improve the tax-to-GDP ratio significantly and the implementation of the goods and services tax — another big reform — also remains a work in progress. In sum, while it was difficult to take tough decisions under the large UPA coalition, a politically stable NDA would have benefited from a more consultative approach. It would have helped in taking forward reforms in land acquisition and farm sector, for instance. Professional consultation on trade would have nudged policy against higher tariffs.






February 12, 2024

Army in control

Pakistan’s political chaos is likely to continue


Pakistan’s election has not ended the political chaos that has plagued the country in recent years. With the powerful military establishment having turned against Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician whom it installed as Prime Minister in a visibly unfair election in 2018, the other parties — Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party — were expected to emerge victorious in this poll. But instead, independents associated with Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, managed to gain a plurality of seats even amid widespread accusations of rigging. While these accusations may be overstated, occasions when the vote count was delayed and PTI candidates excluded from the counting stations do suggest that this election was possibly even more unfair than the 2018 one that brought Mr Khan to power. Nevertheless, the PTI-backed winners fell short of a simple majority, and the results as certified by Pakistan’s Election Commission suggest a coalition of the other parties and some independents might be able to create a government similar to the Shahbaz Sharif-led coalition, which ruled for just over a year after Mr Khan was pushed out of office in April 2022.


The fears are that Pakistan might be in for a prolonged period of street protests, which would further prostrate that country’s struggling economy. The PTI has planned nationwide protests and will challenge various results in court. The local and national police have declared their intention to crack down, and Section 144 has been imposed in the capital of Islamabad — where the PTI was stunned when the PML-N appeared to win all the city seats on offer. Mr Khan’s party has been joined in protests by the various Islamist parties from the Jamaat-e-Islami to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. These radical Islamists were largely wiped out in the election — though, ironically, in most cases their vote seems to have drifted to the PTI. The formation of a stable coalition will depend therefore less on the Islamists and more on whether the military or the PML-N can prevail on a dozen or so independents to join a coalition between the PML-N and PPP. The Karachi-based secular party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan, which represents the interests of Indian-origin Muhajirs, may emerge kingmaker, having won 17 seats.


What has been shown up, from the perspective of Indian policymakers, is surely the sustained and structural democratic deficit in Pakistan. It is clear that while the military is not able to manage results to perfection, it remains the only entity able to exert real power in Pakistan. Defiance of the general staff’s instructions can lead to dethronement and jail, and restoration through the ballot box is still a far-off dream. Mr Sharif and his party may well come to power now; they have always been far more in favour of peace with India than other players. But, even so, it is clear that the civilian leaders in Pakistan will also be hamstrung when it comes to making big decisions like neighbourhood policy. For New Delhi, which has always resisted negotiating with the Pakistan army, this reinforcement of the army’s control will not be considered welcome news.






February 12, 2024

Imran’s bouncer

Pakistanis have spoken through the ballot despite a less than free and fair national election


There is a regime change in Pakistan after the national and provincial elections were conducted under dramatic circumstances of mobile and internet services being suspended on voting day. Amidst concerns that the process was less than free and fair, the long-delayed results have so far indicated that none of the parties, notably the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-backed Independents, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and Pakistan People’s Party has the numbers to stake a claim, triggering a game of thrones. In the national assembly, 266 candidates are elected through direct voting with 70 being reserved for women and religious minorities.


A simple majority of 133 is all that is needed to form the government. The big surprise of the verdict was that the PTI-backed Independents garnered the largest number of declared candidates to the national assembly despite its supremo and former Prime Minister Imran Khan being imprisoned and barred from contesting; the top leadership being decimated by the military establishment; and the election commission deciding to relieve the party of its election symbol. PTI plans to form the federal government, as well as governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


For such reasons, if the new regime is not representative of the will of the citizenry who have spoken through the ballot, political and economic instability will stalk the nation. The government, of course, will be determined by the all-powerful army that wields the real power in the system. There is a sense of déjà-vu in Pakistani politics as the army’s favoured candidate now is three-time PM Nawaz Sharif, who has also claimed victory as the single-largest party and has begun talks with PPP to form a coalition government.


The opposite was true at the last national elections in July 2018 when it was Sharif who faced the military’s disfavour and was barred from politics for life, with Khan anointed as PM. The point is that the army’s favoured heads of government end up reading from a different script time after time, as happened in the case of Khan and may happen again. This lends a fundamental instability to the polity. Pakistan’s army chief General Asim Munir has urged politicians to show “maturity and unity” as the elections failed to produce a clear winner. The best guarantee of that is to respect vox populi.


The new administration’s immediate priority will be to address the festering economic crisis that brought the country to the doors of the IMF for a bailout. Pakistan averted a sovereign default last summer through a $3 billion nine-month loan by the Fund.  A new extended programme has to be negotiated. that entails implementing politically difficult loan conditions such as raising energy tariffs, higher interest rates and a market-based exchange rate when the urgent need is to support overall economic growth. Dealing with the worst floods in recent memory, Pakistan’s economy is expected to grow at only 1.7% in 2023-24 (July-June) after registering negative growth of 0.6% in the previous fiscal. As this is below the rate of population growth, this implies negative per capita income growth and worsening poverty. Inflation rages at 30% and there is rising joblessness. Pakistan needs the Fund’s imprimatur to access external financing to meet its massive debt repayment burdens. All of this needs a truly representative government to address these economic imperatives. Democratic regimes in an army uniform are only a recipe for renewed instability. That’s not good news for India.


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