The stock market crash of October 1929 sent Wall Street into a panic, wiping out millions of investors. Lasting from 1929 to 1939, it reached its lowest point by 1933 making some 15 million Americans were jobless and nearly half of the country’s banks had failed. Over the next several years, consumer spending and investment dropped, causing steep declines in industrial output and employment as failing companies laid off workers. It again happened in 2008, this time on a much larger scale despite Federal Reserve and Treasury Department efforts to prevent it. Globalization opened up many new and promising vistas for development, the negative effects coming from the global interconnectivity of our world is rapidly dawning on us today. Integrating financial markets worldwide the shockwaves of financial downturn reaches many more economies. The crisis led to a Great Recession, where housing prices dropping, banks failing and bailout packages trying to limit the fall-out. Two years after the recession ended, unemployment was still above 9%, and that’s not counting discouraged workers who had given up looking for work.
Force-multiplying the economic complications in the existing crisis scenario is the spread of the coronavirus that has been declared a pandemic by the WHO and is threatening humanity and global economies by making the possibility of a global recession and break-down of economies very real. The stock markets are tumbling. Supply chains are collapsing and whole industries are maimed. Tourism comes to a halt, airlines are struggling to survive and intensify fears of a global recession. Economies like the US, Italy, France and even Germany presently seem to be the worst affected. Consequently countries of Asia, China and Russia, will suffer.
With our economy already in a bad shape, albeit with some slight signs of a recovery, even without the global turmoil the situation is still quite volatile. When the economic outfall of the global crises is not yet here, but when it will comes it will endanger the national security of our country. While closing the borders with Afghanistan and Iran for people is right, trade and exchange of goods must be allowed. Balochistan and the tribal areas are already suffering and if no action is taken there might be riots in the face of scarcity of medical, food and other supplies. There could be a new upsurge of violence. People losing their income will starve and go on rampage and food shortages and other emergencies might occur. Some elements may want to take advantage of such a situation and create more turmoil. Food riots have often destroyed countries what to talk about govts being felled, more often than not!
I have tremendous regard for Dr Reza Baqir and the State Bank of Pakistan. However the decision of the State Bank to keep interest in Pakistan high is definitely not a wise move. Everywhere in the world interest rates have been reduced close to zero and in some countries to zero in order to help the economies to survive and limit break-up of whole industries and the manufacturing sector. The only thing that the decision of Pakistan’s State Bank to keep interest high is going to achieve is to save Pakistan’s stock market and protect the Banks flush with profit because of investing in govt bonds. The stock market anyway does not have any relevance to the market situation and to commodity prices and is nothing more than a gambler’s den. In addition, banks that have made high profits in the past already will make more of it due to this decision. Therefore, the need of the hour is not to support the already rich few but the majority of our population and the economy at large that is reeling under the impact of the current crisis. Helping the few corporates to make more money is the wrong path. It is the consumers who need money and support. And more so, there is a need to financially support the manufacturing industry and the economy at large so as to limit the destruction, the loss of jobs due to the current crisis. The IMF has urged central banks in the world to provide liquidity to support market functioning and ease stresses in key funding markets, through open market operations, expanded term lending, and other measures such as outright purchases and repo facilities. Such temporary targeted measures will support sectors that have been hit hardest and underlines the need for more targeted support for certain assets. That means for the government to provide sizable support for affected people and firms. “Wage subsidies for businesses affected by shutdowns can help prevent cascading bankruptcies and massive layoffs that will have lasting effects for future recovery and negative impact on aggregate demand.” This situation requires extraordinary decisions. Dr Reza Baqir must choose the people of Pakistan over the special interest groups and/or individuals. Extraordinary situation requires extraordinary measures, never before has a pandemic been declared of such global dimension and medical and economic severity, endangering medically not only millions of people but of destroying world economy in its wake that will harm global population as well is mainly due to the misjudging and mishandling of the situation.
The US President activated the National Guard to help fight the coronavirus in six states, US lawmakers are calling for more military action. This is a logical action for countries to take. Germany has called out the army to help and Bavaria has declared a catastrophic situation. As far back as September, 1862, US President Abraham Lincoln imposed congressionally authorized martial law. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the first year of the Civil War, responding to riots and local militia actions in the border states by allowing the indefinite detention of what he termed as “disloyal persons” without trial. We have plenty of that, unfortunately the media has been infiltrated by them. Lincoln ignored a Supreme Court justice’s decision overturning his order, and over the next few years, the Great Emancipator, in one of the war’s starkest ironies, allowed these new restrictions, which also imposed martial law in some volatile border areas and curbed freedom of speech and the press, to expand throughout the Northern states.
Certainly, martial law is not needed but there is a need to be able to act decisively and fast when needed. We do not need to resort to “the doctrine of necessity”, but if there was ever a necessity, it is now. China’s success to limit the coronavirus is mainly due to its draconian fast and decisive measures in total disregard of civil rights like freedom of congregation or movement and others. How come the great western democracies are emulating what they termed dictatorial and unacceptable only a month ago? There is also a dire need to ruthlessly weed out non-performing people that have risen not on merit but through nepotism or cronyism into leading positions. Harmful for the functioning of our institutions, in this situation of looming economic, medical and political emergency they may tip the balance towards catastrophe.
In a televised address to the nation on Mar 17 PM Imran Khan made a frank appraisal of the situation moving from bad to worse. In the circumstances rhetoric is not enough, it has to be backed up by draconian measures. Imran Khan has the “casus belli” because of the present situation and the strength of character and his popularity across the broad expanse of the country to do what is vitally necessary. Members of the opposition, not tainted by corruption, can be included in a national unity govt to execute the measure he adopts. Please keep the corrupt out, please keep out those trying to rule the country by pulling strings from behind the scenes. If they get control of our intelligence apparatus, those greedy people will bring down this Army and this country. Are those individuals who are involved a “state” secret? Everyone knows about their manipulations!
China’s reaction to the virus and its successful dealing shows that process democratic and long debate are not the way to deal with the crisis. Pakistan must adjust our reaction to the crisis by streamlining our response. It is especially counterproductive to have the courts act ‘independently’ and delay or prevent necessary action to deal with the situation by the government. Unfortunately the Courts seen hell bent on creating an anarchic situation “in the name of justice” by making the govt machinery and the accountability mechanism powerless to function. The coronavirus and world economic situation require the courts to be “quarantined” until the crisis is under control. Look at what the courts are doing to NAB to prevent them from carrying out accountability. Instead of functioning for the citizens of Pakistan, the distinct perception is that they are functioning for the white-collar criminals. It is commendable that the SC (kudos to Chief Justice Gulzar and his fellow Justices on the SC Bench) restored the PIA Chief Air Marshal Arshad Malik. Can you imagine what harm was down to PIA by removing him on a technicality. PIA was in a state of limbo because of a misplaced sense of applying the rule of law by the courts.
On my request an eminent lawyer kindly gave this opinion. “A Proclamation of emergency on account of war, internal disturbance, etc can be issued under Article 232 of the Constitution of Pakistan if the President is satisfied that a grave emergency exists in which the security of Pakistan, or any part thereof, is threatened by war or external aggression, or by internal disturbance beyond the power of a Provincial Government to control provided that for imposition of emergency due to internal disturbances, a Resolution from the Provincial Assembly of that Province shall be required. Provided further that if the President acts on his own, the Proclamation of Emergency shall be placed before both Houses of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) for approval by each House within ten days”. Moreover he says, “Article 233 of the Constitution of Pakistan reads (1) Power to suspend Fundamental Rights, etc., during emergency period. Nothing contained in Articles 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 24 shall, while a proclamation of Emergency is in force, restrict the power of the State as defined in Article 7 to make any law or take any executive action which it would, but for the provisions in the said Articles, be competent to make or to take, but any law so made shall, to the extent of the incompetency, cease to have effect, and shall be deemed to have been repealed, at the time when the Proclamation is revoked or has ceased to be in force. (2) While a Proclamation of Emergency is in force, the President may, by Order, declare that the right to move any Court for the enforcement of such of the Fundamental Rights conferred by Chapter I of Part II as may be specified in the Order, and any proceeding in any Court which is for the enforcement, or involves the determination of any question as to the infringement, of any of the Rights so specified, shall remain suspended for the period during which the Proclamation is in force, and any such Order may be made in respect of the whole or any part of Pakistan. (3) Every Order made under this Article shall, as soon as may be, be laid before [both Houses of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) separately] for approval and the provisions of clauses (7) and (8) of Article 232 shall apply to such an Order as they apply to “Proclamation of Emergency”.”
Does Imran Khan want to face social disorder without taking the responsibility as PM to suspend and/or hold in abeyance certain parts of the Constitution that puts him as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in a position to coordinate all forces and agencies of the State to act swiftly? Incidentally what did we do in Swat and FATA? And in Karachi? Could we have waged the tremendous counter-insurgency to wipe out the bases of terrorism in the country if the fundamental rights had not been suspended and the Armed Forces given a free hand to enforce the rule of law? Could we have attacked civilian targets harbouring terrorists, with possible collateral damage, if the courts had their say? To prevent possible anarchy the Supreme Court of Pakistan should be approached to support the national emergency, this time in the whole country, on the pattern of the “war against terrorism”, an all-out war with far greater stakes for every citizen, man, woman and child? Positive action is only possible by immediately declaring national emergency. If he wants to save the country from total disaster, the PM must act immediately and without further delay to advise the President to do his Constitutional duty. Or do we again have to resort to “the Doctrine of Necessity” despite risking the unscrupulous pulling the strings from behind the scene? (the writer is a defence and security analyst).