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Editorial

Dhaka taps IMF

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The downslide in the wake of the price spiral and war over Ukraine is toiling. Bangladesh, in a desperate attempt to ward off balance of payments, is knocking at the doors of IMF. Dhaka apparently is eager to seek a credit line of $4.5 billion as its forex reserves take a dip. It says that the rising energy prices and power outage at home, coupled with monsoon flash floods has impacted its economy adversely. This phenomenon is quite unnerving as Dhaka had consolidated its economic base and was one of the rising Southeast Asian performers.

The regression owing to regional upheavals is in need of being studied, as Bangladesh is just a recent addition to a long list of Asian states who are at the brink of disaster. From Sri Lanka to Pakistan, and from Nepal, Maldives, Afghanistan to India, the problem is how to keep a lid on their respective currencies in the backdrop of dollars’ surge. Unprecedented increase in oil and food prices, and the inability to cut non-developmental expenditures in many of these developing countries is taking them down. The war in Ukraine has simply furthered the envelope with a firm warning that until and unless an alternate source of energy is found, economies will remain in a state of volatility.

Bangladesh’s slide is quite unfortunate. Governmental estimates say the country will lose around $10 billion in reconstructions as it overcomes the climatic destruction. Moreover, the critical slump in exchange rate as well as reserves from $45 to $39 billion within weeks is alarming. The country, likewise, witnessed a gradual decrease in the inflow of remittances owing to pandemic constraints and the ever-changing mosaic of the job market in the Mideast. Is the IMF option viable? The conditionalities that the Washington-based donor will impose on the South Asian state will be hard to bear and, moreover, act as a stumbling block on the path of self-reliance that the country has successfully been treading for years.

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Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2022.

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Editorial

Gill’s arrest

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Political heat is picking up as the nation gears up for national day celebrations. PTI leader Shahbaz Gill has been arrested on charges of sedition and inciting the public against the state. While it is for the court to decide whether Gill’s remarks aired from a private TV channel crossed the red line on the sensitive matter of national security, the arrest could not have come at a more wrong time — when the country so very direly needs political calm, also needed to set things right on the economic front. Moreover, the arrest happens at a time when the PTI has planned a show of strength in Lahore on August 13, after facing administrative problems to hold a rally in the federal capital. Gill, meanwhile, has not been in custody for the first time as he was on surety bail when he travelled back home after his visit to the United States, immediately after the dismissal of the PTI government.

Gill and the PTI will have to do some plain-talking, and make it clear as to what was their narrative as they took to social media on issues touching the sacrosanct of the state institutions. The private TV channel programme under debate is surely in need of some policy appraisal, and has gone wayward. The government, on the other hand, must indulge in some deep introspection too, and come to a considerate opinion whether political discourse and differences could be settled by resourcing to punitive acts of law. The culture of blaming each other for being anti-state and disloyal, as well as heretic, must come to an end, and political diatribe must stand the litmus test of credibility only at the ballot.

It’s time to step back from the brink. Let Gill, and his likes, have undeterred access to law, and the charges be settled on merit. Pakistan is in dire need of political reconciliation with the stated spirit of upholding the Constitution. The instability that has crept in has many fissures, and the prime among them is economic fragility. Soaring cost of living and plummeting employment stare us right in our face, and have been compounded with an irresistible rise in oil and energy prices. To add misery are the monsoon floods which have devastated standing crops. It’s time to collectively address these public issues, and not to indulge in pricking political balloons.

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Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2022.

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Editorial

Whither food security

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Rains are usually a blessing for the agrarian sector, but in our case, it turns into a nuisance. The reason is lack of seasonal customised provisions, coupled with ad-hocism in regulating farm water channels, as well as an outdated harvesting strategy. While Pakistan is home to one of the best canal and riverine systems, its non-regulation and prompt cleaning before monsoon renders havoc to agrarian productivity. This year also the monsoon has played its mischief, and the farmers of Sindh are estimating a loss of more than Rs50 billion. The standing crop of dates, vegetables and cotton has reportedly been washed away by flash floods, and their due supplies has become an enigma. The apt recourse that is adopted is tax relief and provision of soft loans, as the provincial government goes on to declare an emergency. But this provision only results in burdening the national exchequer, and at the same time sees an escalation of prices of essential commodities. The farmers, somehow, manage to audit their losses but the axe falls on consumers who end up paying a heavy price for the produce that is imported to meet demand.

It is ironic that Pakistan despite being an agrarian state does not have a viable agriculture policy. It is unfortunately a grain importing nation and ends up doling out its precious foreign exchange. The same can always be avoided by prudently opting for stringent management and a better planned harvesting decorum. Food imports are a result of a flawed food security policy. This is because we have failed to regulate, modernize and patronize agriculture, and have contended with piecemeal measures. This vulnerability has impacted our self-reliance. Pakistan has to feed 220 million mouths, and adds an average of five million more people to its grain basket annually. It’s high time a food security policy is unveiled and the farmers bucked up with desired essentials.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2022.

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Editorial

Electricity shortfall

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The power crisis continues as the country recently witnessed an electricity shortfall of 6,439 megawatts (MWs), resulting in power outages of up to six hours in urban cities twelve hours in rural areas. There is a huge demand and supply deficit as the country requires around 24,900 MWs of electricity while only producing 18,461 MWs.

Governments seem unnerved and concerted efforts of shifting towards sustainable energy sources remains to be seen. Private power plants generate the most electricity, approximately 7,500 MWs, followed by hydropower sources producing 6,700 MWs. Solar, wind and thermal sources produce only a meagre 1,760 MWs together. If the country is to relieve the burden on the energy sector while saving money at the same time, it needs to stop resorting to private sector power plants and invest heavily in renewable means of producing electricity. Reopening plants and improving their efficiency might be a suitable step in the short-run but will prove costly and unsustainable for the longer period. The country is already reeling with the horrific effects of climate change and burning more fossil fuels will do us no good. The 45% contribution from renewable sources must be increased by procuring heavy investments. The EU has already planned to accelerate the large-scale rollout of solar energy in a bid to decrease reliance on Russian fossil fuel. We musts aim for the same and build a relationship on that front to procure technology and investment.

Officials have failed to implement energy policies, and now and energy crisis and well as an economic crisis looms over the country. Energy lockdowns and frequent load shedding will further make matters worse and causes discord with the masses. The way forward is to experiment with renewable systems that can be used in domestic settings.

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Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2022.

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