It is embarrassing, really, for the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). In their short stint in government, they have had two finance ministers in power, both of whom have made it their life’s mission to knock down the other.
Of the two, one has been justified in his anger and dignified in his criticism. And we’ll give you a hint, that wasn’t Ishaq Dar. In a recent appearance on a podcast, former finance minister Miftah Ismail pointed towards the familial relationship between Ishaq Dar and the PML- N supremo Mian Nawaz to explain his dismissal from office. In the nicest way he possibly could, Miftah Ismail clearly made it known his displeasure at how he was treated and his exit from office managed.
Let us go back to when he first came to office, and the shadow he had to compete with. Here’s the rub: Unenviable as it was, Miftah’s position was in trouble from day one. Despite the very tough road ahead of whoever was finance minister, Ishaq Dar was gunning for the position. And in the minds of the PML-N leadership, living up to Dar was always going to be a challenge. It is testament to his towering intellect and economic prowess that an entire school of economics popularly known as ‘Darnomics’ has popped up and become a household name in Pakistan. Dar, to his credit, is not one for false modesty and has been seen publicly accepting and acknowledging the services of Darnomics to the country.
Indeed, Miftah was not alone. The shadow of Darnomics hung long and dark on all of us. The obsession with a strong rupee, the failure to regularise the taxation system, and unsustainable and inequitable growth are all legacies of Ishaq Dar’s previous stint in the top-seat at Q-block.
When Mifta Ismail first came to office, he had a tough path to follow. He had to fight in the cabinet to raise petrol prices and slash the subsidy on fuel. The dollar was still crashing. And from a very weak position in government, it was his responsibility to coax and cajole a (justifiably) irate IMF back to the negotiating table.
While he did a commendable job, he was constantly harangued by certain sections of his own party. The Darnomics vision of the economy was what mattered to the PML-N’s top cadre. Making tough economic decisions was not on their agenda. They wanted policies that would provide short-term relief and provide them strength on the campaign trail. After all, the average voter does not understand the nuances of economic policy. They just care about the bottom line.
For a while, the prime minister persisted with Miftah. But all that while, Dar was out there whispering in the ears of Mian Nawaz that if he was given his old post back, he could wrestle the dollar to its old price and even slash petrol prices, and maybe just win the PML-N the next election. And when the PTI and Imran Khan gained back control of the Punjab and swept the by-elections in the country, it was Miftah’s head on the chopping block.
For a while, Miftah bided his time. He acted as the good soldier and allowed Dar to come in and do his thing. The problem was, despite trying it from ten different directions, Dar has neither been able to control the dollar nor petrol prices. Suddenly, the PML-N has found themselves in a position where they are unable to provide short-term relief and too stubborn to take the tough decisions that are needed to put the country’s economy back on track. With this bleak picture, it is no wonder that Miftah has been growing bolder and speaking more freely. He stands a man vindicated, and even a dignified man can’t help but gloat a little and say “I told you so.”