PakistanToday Editorials | June 28, 2020

Compounding peoples’ problems

  • A petrol price hike without justification

Much had been made by the PTI government about having ‘the lowest petroleum product prices in the region’ following a price reduction of Rs 7.06 earlier this month, made necessary by the fall in international oil prices. The new price level was said to remain in place until the end of the ongoing month but that has not happened as petrol prices were quite unexpectedly raised by a massive Rs 26 yesterday. That the price hike is not preceded by a recommendation from OGRA or a cabinet level discussion, rather just an abrupt finance division notification simply citing a ‘global rise in prices’, is unusual. There is also no justification provided for keeping the levy on petrol at the maximum level of Rs 30, resulting in a double-whammy for consumers. The suspicious urgency with which this increase has been brought about can perhaps be partly explained by pressure from the IMF that has, under the ongoing EFF, demanded higher energy prices and is currently withholding a much-needed tranche of approximately $450 million.

A few weeks ago an inquiry was launched against OMCs (Oil Marketing Companies) following an artificial shortage of petrol across the country. Strict action, such as cancellation of licenses, was threatened if anyone was caught hoarding stock. Instead of any punitive measures, their price manipulation has been facilitated by the government and it has paid off as they can now sell the stock that was held back earlier in the month, at a higher price. A similar series of events is clear to see in the sugar and wheat shortage probes as well. Whatever the reasons for the untimely fuel price rise may be, it certainly puts a dent into the disposable income of the working class that is already suffering due to rampant unemployment and despite falling inflation, high prices of basic necessities in the markets that include sugar, wheat and medicines. The government can hide its economic shortcoming behind a ‘record-low current account deficit’ and the pandemic, but that does little to satisfy those at the bottom, who actually feel the pinch that hurts more with each successive governance and administrative failure.


A possible inflection point

  • Resolving differences with young tribal leaders

It is a positive move on the part of the government to enter into dialogue with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and the MNAs backed by it. Reportedly Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser approached the PTM to formally offer a dialogue. Earlier Mr Khattak had said the people belonging to the tribal districts were lagging behind others in terms of education, healthcare and infrastructure and it was high time for the leaders to work for the region’s uplift rather than indulge in any confrontation. Mr Khattak has perhaps realized now that it takes two to tango.

For decades the people of the tribal areas were kept deprived of the rights enjoyed by the rest of their countrymen on the pretext that they were fiercely independent, disliked external interference in their affairs and were content with the jirga system, a stone-age relic enforced by the colonial rulers. They were denied the right to form political parties or seek representation in the assemblies. They also had no right to appeal against the decision of the Political Agent in any court. Putting up demands through media, taking out rallies or organizing sit-ins were alien to them. It goes to their credit that they learnt the ropes in a short time. They might sometime exercise their right to freedom of expression in a way that is not liked by some but the issue can be resolved through talks.

The tribal areas have suffered most from terrorism. So when the PM calls OBL a “martyr,” he creates suspicions among the people of Pakistan in general, and the tribal people in particular, about the policy of his government towards the terrorists who carry the blood of thousands of civilians and security personnel on their hands.  One hopes the issue would be clarified during the proposed government-PTM talks.

Terrorist groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Islamic State, and so on, have established safe havens in Afghanistan from where they launch attacks inside Pakistan. Their attacks on law enforcement personnel and tribal people are currently on the increase. Unless there is peace and security of life in the region through joint efforts of the government and the tribal leaders, the tribal districts cannot develop while the country will also remain unsafe.

Published in the PakistanToday, June 28, 2020

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