Just a little over two hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted an acerbic offer to India, his government put out a status check of Pakistan’s economy. PM Khan’s adviser on finance and revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh released the economic survey that estimates Pakistan’s debt will rise to 88% of the GDP and the economy will shrink for the first time in 68 years by 0.4%. And that is an optimistic picture. The IMF and World Bank have projected that Pakistan, which closes its financial year this month-end, will contract by up to 2.6%.
Dr Shaikh apportioned much of the blame for the state of the economy between Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistani Muslim League-N governments that had been in power from 2013 to 2018 before Imran Khan came to power with his promise of a ‘Naya Pakistan’, and the coronavirus pandemic.Imran Khan, who has been active on social media hurling barbs at India, hasn’t tweeted on his government’s report card on the economy.“PM Imran Khan is finding himself boxed in… by his political detractors, the army that is closing in, the economy and the Kashmir agenda,” a Pakistan watcher in New Delhi said.
In just two years, PM Khan’s influence within and without the government has dropped sharply. That includes the army too, Pakistan’s most powerful institution whose backing was credited to have helped PM Khan mobilise support from smaller coalition partners.A Bloomberg report published this week underscored that the army has tightened its grip on PM Khan’s government, placing more than a dozen former and serving military officials in prominent roles.
The bleak outlook for the economy makes PM Khan’s troubles so much bigger. Thursday’s economic survey, news agency Reuters reported, reveals that PM Khan’s government had missed almost all economic targets by a wide margin even before the global new coronavirus pandemic.At least 10 million people are expected to slip below the poverty line due to the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the total number of people struggling to survive to 60 million.Apart from the human cost, the troubled economy could seal any chances of the army getting a substantive hike to give soldiers and officers a 20 percent raise that they had asked for. For now, Dr Shaikh, according to Pakistan newspaper Dawn, said there would be a free on current expenditure and the defence budget. He credited PM Khan as well as Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa for this decision.