Prime Minister Imran Khan has been stressing that the current era is a defining moment for Pakistan. He says that this is time for Pakistanis to choose between being beggars and holding up the nation’s dignity. Shehbaz Sharif is under fire because he gave a reality check to Pakistan that we are not in a position to mess with the superpowers that feed us.
And he isn’t wrong. When you rely on someone for money, you cannot delude yourself into thinking that you still have control. But this coming from Shehbaz Sharif has two major issues. First, his own party majorly contributed to making us a beggar. After PPP, his party, PML-N, is the leading debt taker in Pakistan’s history; 35% of the total IMF loans have been taken by PML-N in its tenures. So someone from PML-N should not be saying this.
Second, he showed a very laidback attitude towards debt. He said that as a leader of the country, it is his duty to feed the people of his country which is why he needs to take money from these powers and think before making a policy against them. This is a problematic attitude. PML-N lost many voters in the past due to its sheer obsession with IMF and once again it is justifying the need to go to IMF.
The PML-N did not learn from the past. It did not update its narrative. When the PTI presented a pro-IMF bill in the Senate, PML-N and PPP were lambasting the government for this. As if they never went to IMF themselves. The fundamental question that the opposition needs to answer is that “what will they do to recover Pakistan from post-PTI havoc?” Suppose Shehbaz Sharif becomes the prime minister, what is he going to do? How will he recover the rupee against the rising dollar? How will he counter Inflation? What is his economic reform? The answer is evident from his statement. He will go to IMF, which is disappointing.
His one naive interview is going to weaken the whole narrative of PML-N. PTI was clever. It quickly took his statement and twisted it to strengthen its own narrative. The narrative of the “defining moment”. According to PTI, Imran Khan is the one who will not let Pakistan bow before anyone. He is the one who will save the country from economic ruin. And the voters of PTI are so naive that they will easily buy this narrative without a question, despite knowing that this is coming from the same person who once promised that he will never go to IMF and would rather attempt suicide. Yet, he went to IMF.
The fundamental question that one needs to ask PTI is how can Imran Khan ensure that Pakistan has an independent foreign policy when the economic policy in his own tenure is not independent. How is it possible to be independent in decision making when you do not have the resources for making a living? His government did not fund any breakthrough startups in Pakistan. There has not been any groundbreaking progress in his tenure. He failed to bring back billions of dollars from Swiss banks. How is he going to make sure that Pakistan would not have to bow down before anyone? Do we have enough resources? Does he have a backup plan?
Imran Khan needs to realize that independent decisions have consequences. Calling out the US for its selective outrage is another thing, but dragging it with an accusation of a conspiracy is something that shouldn’t be considered a joke. If the US froze the assets of Pakistan in the US as a result of these accusations, how will he handle this? Does he have a solution other than self-glorified chants and slogans?
On the other side, Shehbaz Sharif needs to realize that going to the IMF is not the kind of solution Pakistanis are looking for. Not even the critics of Imran Khan would be flattered by this. PML-N needs to come up with a concrete solution to tackle the economic issues. Instead of investing billions outside their country, it would be really helpful to the economy if they bring their own wealth back to Pakistan.
No one is asking them to spend their money on Pakistan, just shift it to the country to balance the reserves. That’s it. Most importantly, he needs to realize that beggars can choose. They can choose to opt-out of slavery by breaking the begging bowl. PML-N needs to give hope to its voter that they have a practical solution for the economy other than IMF. Both Imran Khan and Shehbaz Sharif need to realize that the pursuit of financial independence would be the real defining moment for Pakistan.