It is now no secret that Pakistan’s economy was on the verge of default in 2018. The previous government initiated slight policy adjustments back in 2017 when they realised that they would not be able to last until the 2018 elections without them.
Since emerging victorious in 2018, the current government has undertaken serious economic reforms which required various difficult decisions in a bid to shift economic policy from shortsighted import-led growth to long-term, sustainable growth. After a natural economic slowdown, Pakistan’s economy has finally started to show promising signs of recovery but there is still a particular segment within the media that portrays an image of complete doom and gloom regarding the economy.
A prime example of this is Khurram Husain, editor of business pages at Dawn. Being the leading English daily, Dawn exerts a certain influence on the discourse among the educated class of the country, which then influences the perception of the rest of the population. Khurram writes a weekly editorial in the newspaper, mostly focusing on the economy. The most tragic part about Khurram’s writing is the obvious bias that he holds against the government. Rather than present facts regarding the economy in a way that can be easily understood by the audience, with each piece of writing Khurram only fulfils his goal of opposing and criticising the government, or rather Prime Minister Imran Khan in particular.
Khurram’s bias runs so deep that he is often found contradicting himself just to go out of his way to disparage the Prime Minister and his economic team. In fact the only thing consistent in his views is the sheer determination to prove the government wrong, and in achieving that goal, Khurram often makes glaring mistakes due to a fundamental lack of understanding of economics.
Let’s start with a classic example of Khurram’s prejudice, which appears in his editorial Exports under pressure.
To clarify, trade data in Pakistan is reported by both the State Bank of Pakistan and the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The two sets of data vary slightly as SBP calculates based on the trade payments made through the banking system, whereas PBS calculates based on goods passing through Pakistan Customs. Exports are showing a healthy increase post-pandemic according to PBS data, but Khurram says that it requires a “leap of faith” to buy this argument. In a 2017 piece titled Mystery of CPEC payments, however, Khurram himself believed this to be a “good reason” for the gap between the two sources. Change in government, change in heart?
Another example of Khurram’s bias is clearly visible in his July 2020 editorial titled Are deficits always a bad thing? in which he attempts to whitewash the historic twin deficits inherited by the current government. This came at a time when the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech in the parliament how a current account deficit was unsustainable and detrimental to the long-term growth prospects of the economy. It is pertinent to note that the PTI government inherited the biggest current account deficit / balance of payment crisis in Pakistan’s history which prompted key policy changes such as currency devaluation and a tight monetary policy, thus managing to bring the deficit down by 85%. Had these measures not been taken, with rapidly depleting forex reserves and ballooning deficits, Pakistan would have defaulted on external commitments, leading to hyperinflation similar to what was witnessed in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Hence, in short, deficits are definitely bad if a country is unable to finance it through available resources which was the case for Pakistan.
One of Khurram’s favourite go-to moves in editorials is to downplay the economic mess inherited by the PTI government. In November 2019, in Imran’s corner he argued that the current account deficit inherited by the PPP government, as a percentage of GDP, was more than the PTI government, thus dismissing the fact the country was on the verge of defaulting in 2018.
So while Khurram argues deficits are not always bad he also gives an example of a past government having tougher conditions because of a higher deficit, which is yet another inconsistency in his writing. This, however, is a very simplistic way of looking at the problem because the real issue with running deficits in the ability to finance it. The fact remains that the PTI government inherited the highest current account deficit with the lowest net foreign exchange reserves to finance that deficit – the biggest balance of payment crisis in the country’s history.
In November 2020, Khurram wrote Pumping growth “In a rather strange presentation of the facts, the government told us this week that the economy is doing well and they are preparing for talks with the IMF. I always thought the IMF is where you go when the economy is not doing well.” Ironically, the strange presentation of facts comes from Khurram himself. Economic indicators being positive doesn’t mean the economy doesn’t need to complete an IMF program just as feeling better after taking one or two antibiotic pills doesn’t mean you don’t need to complete the full course. Even someone with a very fundamental understanding of economics will be able to answer the question raised by Khurram here.
Back in 2019, when a dynamic and accomplished professional, Reza Baqir, was announced as the next Governor of State Bank, Khurram argued that the central bank had been “handed over” to international creditors, adding to the media campaign against Reza Baqir which went to the lengths of insinuating that he was a traitor. Fast forward 2 years, State Bank has introduced a multitude of reforms under Baqir’s leadership, ranging from the introduction of Pakistan’s first instant payment system ‘Raast’, to Roshan Digital Accounts for overseas Pakistanis allowing easy repatriation and investment of funds in Pakistan. Other notable measures include Temporary Economic Refinance Facility (TERF) during COVID-19, implementing housing and mortgage reforms, and facilitating foreign investment in Pakistani startups. All these measures are being wholeheartedly appreciated across the board by the market and stakeholders, with the only exception being Khurram Husain.
When COVID-19 hit, most countries went for blanket lockdowns, believing it to be the only solution to curtailing the spread of the virus. Blazing a new trail, Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to implement smart lockdown while allowing the industry to open so that daily wagerscould sustain themselves. While the decision faced immense backlash then, it later proved to be the correct strategy and it garnered praise from the world over. However, it proved to be another instance of Khurram falling prey to his monumental ego when Asad Umar quoted a Yale study which argued that complete lockdown in developing countries could take as many lives as the virus itself.
In typical fashion, Khurram wrote a scathing piece Lives not worth saving accusing the Bangladeshi author, Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, of valuing Pakistani lives less than American ones, only for the editorial to be called out by the author as a “gross misrepresentation of facts.”
The most intriguing aspect of Khurram’s bias is that his “criticism” (for the sake of criticism) is not just political in nature, but rather also personal. This became clear when Khurram went after something as undeniable as the Billion Tree Tsunami.
Back in July 2020, when internationally renowned content creator Nas Daily did a feature on Pakistan’s efforts against climate change, Khurram immediately implied that the content was a paid product. The founder of the platform, Nas, while clarifying that it was 100% free and independent work, responded to Khurram saying “This is the worst journalism I’ve seen in my life.”
In another display of dishonest journalism, Khurram wrote Power and pageantry in January 2020 complaining about an impending gas price hike of upto 221%, before going on a trademark rant on how the Prime Minister is only interested in “cutting ribbons and making bombastic promises”.
He ended the piece with “This prime minister is not fit to rule, how much more evidence is needed to establish this?” The funniest part? Khurram’s price hike claims were completely false, and immediately rebutted by the government.
It can be rightly argued that opinion pieces are exactly that, someone’s opinion on a certain topic. What do you call it, however, when a newspaper editor bases their ‘opinion’ on outright lies, and regularly indulges in misrepresentation of facts, with only one thing consistent in their writing, a personal grudge against the Prime Minister of the country? This unscrupulous editor is not fit to write in one of the most-read newspapers of Pakistan, how much more evidence is needed to establish this?
Writers: Musa Virk & Hashim