News bites — Khan saab’s glorious U turn, Advice for Miftah Ismael, Chopping education and more

The Great U Turn

He came. He saw. He left. After leading a frenzied mob all the way from Peshawar to Islamabad to demand the government’s resignation and fresh elections, Imran Khan sure left his followers – along with the rest of the country – scratching their heads when he abruptly announced that he is going back after entering the capital. Only a few kilometres away from his destination, a crowd of his followers were assembled waiting for his arrival in D Chowk, the seat of all power and flashpoint for all protests in this country.

What happened? Nobody seemed to know. Reports in the newspapers the next day carried conflicting accounts, and ruling party folks gave different accounts of what actually happened. Some reports said a “deal” of some sort had been cut at the last minute. Bristling at this suggestion, Imran Khan held a news conference on Thursday afternoon in which he claimed he made the decision to end the march because he was afraid of the possibility of bloodshed. This explanation made even less sense given that Khan appeared to have left the container without really telling anyone around him what the actual reason was. None of those who were with him on the container came forward with plausible explanations for the decision.

The papers on Friday carried further reports. Apparently a combination of low turnout coupled with messages from powerful quarters – relayed through intermediaries – drove Khan to the decision. Dawn carried a report referring to three individuals who served as the go-betweens in this process. One was a retired Chief Justice, another a retired General and a third a prominent businessman. Folks spent much of the day Friday guessing the names.

Fact is this was the first real world test of the populist juggernaut Khan has been busy building since his ouster. All those rallies, all those speeches, all those hair raising allegations and conspiracy theories – they were building up to this point. And for it to deflate so rapidly means reinflating that balloon will take a lot more than the six days he has given to the government to announce the election schedule. Could this be Khan’s last U turn? We don’t know, but whatever it is, it is glorious no doubt.

The turning point

Thursday morning saw the abrupt end of the long march in the morning followed by the first major fuel price hike in the night. It was a turning point. Until Thursday the new government was held captive by indecision at the centre and Khan’s threats from outside. Both seemed to break on Thursday as Khan’s threat deflated and the first step in a long and painful economic adjustment was taken. The clouds parted, it would seem. But the storm has yet to pass. Having taken the first step the government is now committed to seeing the process through. It would make no sense to take a few baby steps and then call it quits because they get the worst of both worlds – damage to their electoral prospects and no real stabilization of the economy either. Are early elections off the table? Khan is demanding a date by Wednesday of this week (six days from last Thursday).

Advice for Miftah

Dear Miftah: when you have an overheating economy on your hands, don’t be Asad Umar. Be Hafeez Shaikh. Decisive action is needed, and it is not going to be easy. The new finance minister has the unenviable job of having to push millions of people below the poverty line. Anybody with an iota of humanity in them would hesitate before such an awful choice. But failure to make the choice means letting tens of millions of people fall below the poverty line instead, along with triggering massive instability in the entire system as the ramifications of a default cascade through the country. The choice before him is not between good and bad. The choice is between bad and worse. Hafeez Shaikh did not flinch when he had to make this choice twice – first when he came as finance minister for the PPP government, and again for the PTI. But Miftah is known as a man of heart, so he can flinch. But he must make the choice and carry it through decisively.

Axing education

When austerity strikes, the first to go is almost always the education budget. The Higher Education Commission has rightly objected to a steep cut in its budget for next year. The HEC is funded in significant measure through a recurring grant. In ongoing fiscal year the amount the allocation was Rs66 billion against a demand for Rs120bn. For next year the HEC submitted a demand for Rs104bn but has been given an allocation of only Rs30bn, a cut so steep that the commission fears it will not be able to function under it. The HEC has 100 existing universities, 18 new universities and 49 centres or institutes under it. On May 24 the Executive Director of the HEC – Dr. Shaista Sohail – had to write to the ministry of education asking them to “sensitize the M/o Finance to the fact that only an effective education system can raise the nation” and warning that such a steep cut in one year could “cause inconceivable damage to the overall education system” of the country.

Even Hafeez Shaikh would blush at this travesty. How is it the government has found it so hard to remove fuel price caps that cost more in a month than what the HEC is asking for in a year, but so easy to slash the HEC budget?

Khurram Husain
The author is Editor at Profit and can be reached at [email protected]

7 COMMENTS

  1. HEC is a complete waist of funds we are producing PHd but these PHds are unable to do anything new. The acdemis at Universities are busy in writing useless scientific pappers in journals and students are busy in extra curricular activities. Most universities impart bookish knowledge knowledge

  2. HEC is a complete waiste of funds we are producing PHd but these PHds are unable to do anything new. The acdemis at Universities are busy in writing useless scientific pappers in journals and students are busy in extra curricular activities. Most universities impart bookish knowledge which is outdated.

  3. Just very happy to hear from khurram hussain. I hope he can write those dawn like columns which would truly elaborate the current economic situation and expose the lies of the men in power.

  4. @Mubashir Gill: If you knew the importance of education you wouldn’t write “waste as waist”, “academics as acdemis” and “papers as pappers”. So I can see what background you are coming from.

    Supporting the budget cut for education and demoting the research culture will never put country on the path of economic progress. Why not cut defense budget? Why not cut VIP culture? Teachers are already underpaid in Pakistan. Absolutely ridiculous decision by the government.

  5. Education and healthcare are perhaps the least fashionable elements when it comes to garnering support for election because it does not come across as tangible as petrol prices and building roads/motorways. This was one reason why positive aspects of IK’s performance in the domain of healthcare with sehat card and education with SNC did not get highlighted enough.

  6. Miftah’s actions seem to be clear and direct as advised. So let us see what transpires. HEC budget is a shame and institutions need to be preserved at all cost albeit standards are very poor.

    We are at a very low level of being a developing nation. We need to provide quality universal primary education first with computer literacy and diversify our middle education youth into technical and professional disciplines according to our needs only. Nation suffers from severe diplomatosis lacking in any real talent or understanding of vocations. Most professionals are just pen pushers and unable to lead or be creative. It will take two to three decades of good primary education to have a generation that can understand and support next generations to reverse this cycle of neglect.

  7. Schooling and medical care are maybe the most un-trendy components with regards to gathering support for political race since it doesn’t appear to be substantial as petroleum costs and building streets/motorways. This was one motivation behind why positive parts of IK’s presentation in the area of medical services with sehat card and schooling with SNC didn’t get adequately featured.

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