FOR the first time in history, we are facing three huge crises together — economic, political and ‘natural’, while terrorism is up too. The poor had been suffering the first two for months because of inflation, job loss and political paralysis. Now the floods have pushed millions into ruin.

While it is called a natural crisis, it is mainly a human-made one, with the culpability chain encompassing elites at global (causing climate change but giving little aid to poor states to tackle it), national (ignoring disaster mitigation, early warning and response) and local (pushing the poor into the most flood-prone areas) levels. But its cost is borne by millions of poor kids, pregnant women, elderly and sick persons crowded under the open sky or in flimsy tents, prone to hunger, disease, the elements and insecurity as they wait for aid.

It will be weeks before many can even return to their villages as the land drains and dries. It will take months, even years, to recover from the loss of housing, animals, crops and cultivable land. Many will go deeper into debt as aid may be tiny even for immediate relief and even tinier for long-term recovery. Already global and local pledges seem far below those for the 2005 quake and 2010 floods while the damage is much more. We may be the only state globally to have faced three huge ‘natural’ crises since 2000, besides terrorism and Covid-19 misery. Covid-19 had only disrupted economic exchange for three to four months due to the lockdown without damaging the economic base. This flood has destroyed that too: crops, land, animals, bridges, etc. Thus, it will have a deeper impact on the poor and the economy.

Floods will exacerbate the economic crisis that had shown initial signs of abating with the IMF deal. Twin deficits, growth and inflation will worsen, increasing misery for the poor. It is unwise for the government and IMF to expect the poor to bear the same IMF austerity now. Both must sign a new deal that lessens misery for the poor while increasing taxes and reducing subsidies for the rich and cutting defence outlays. But more deeply, highly indebted, climate-change-prone states must no longer suffer IMF terms. They now suffer more ‘natural’ crises costing billions due to the climate change induced by the very states and multilateral/private lenders linked to them. A new global deal must be struck where rich states give debt relief annually without IMF austerity subject to poor states using the fiscal space to craft a sustainable and equitable economy.

Our ability to tackle the crises is stymied by nasty politics.

But our ability to tackle the economic and ‘natural’ crises is being nixed by the futile political crisis PTI is stirring for early polls. The economic crisis alone made early polls a risky diversion; the rise of the ‘natural’ crisis even more so now. By trying to undermine the IMF deal and holding jalsas despite floods, the PTI is proving its lust for power supersedes national interests. But by pursuing iffy mutiny, terrorism, sadiq/ameen and contempt cases, the PDM is also stoking tensions. Disqualifying Imran Khan via such cases will smack of political intrigue, as in Nawaz Sharif’s case. The only strong case relates to the April 3 constitutional violation (but not via Article 6). Oddly, the PDM is not pursuing it. Disqualification short of arrest may even up Imran’s political power.

Thus, the PDM must tackle PTI politically even though it is on a roll currently due to inflation and Imran’s pretence of being a saviour fighting global and internal evil forces. Yet this roll may not last till the polls next year if the PDM improves its governance and politics. It must give relief to the people by rejigging the IMF deal and ensuring a strong flood response. Politically, it must avoid heavy-handed acts like filing iffy cases and banning TV channels and Imran’s speeches, for these only strengthen the former PM’s questionable image as a saviour fighting evil forces. Oddly, all it has do is to give the previous ruling party a wide leash for it to err — for example, via morbid attacks on the army after the Balochistan helicopter crash, Gill’s ARY interview, Imran’s unhinged speeches and PTI’s intrigue against the IMF deal. These acts undercut the PTI’s standing but then the PDM swings the sympathy pendulum back towards the PTI via its heavy-handed acts.

Despite quitting the National Assembly, the May 25 long march, retaking Punjab and endless rallies, the PTI has failed to get early polls, causing it to panic more. Harsh realities are toning down its rhetoric against the US and the institutions. This leaves the PDM’s misrule as its main attack point. But that sheds light on its own bigger misrule too which is why it uses ‘intrigues’ and religion as its key campaign themes.

But the PDM too is a motley crowd and will have to exceed itself hugely to deal ably with the three-pronged crisis.

The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

[email protected]

Twitter: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2022

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