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'It's Getting Difficult To Survive': Uproar In Pakistan Over Soaring Inflation

Supporters of the Pakistan Democratic Movement protest in the port city of Karachi against price hikes of petroleum, electricity, and daily commodities on October 23.

Saeed Khan works two jobs: teaching at a private school and driving passengers on a rickshaw. Even then, the father of five is struggling to make ends meet.

“The prices of some goods have doubled over the past six months to one year,” says Khan, a resident of the Mohmand district in northwestern Pakistan. “But my salary as a teacher has remained the same. I simply couldn’t support my family with only one job.”

Khan is among millions of Pakistanis who are suffering financial hardship as the prices of energy, daily commodities, and medicines soar across the South Asian nation.

Public anger is rising, with protests breaking out across the country of some 220 million. Opposition parties have rallied against the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been accused of exacerbating the country’s economic problems.

A gas station attendant fills a car's tank in Peshawar.
A gas station attendant fills a car's tank in Peshawar.

The protests have been led by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of nine major opposition parties that was formed last year to oust Khan.

The PDM alleges that Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) party won the 2018 general election with help from the country's powerful military, which has an oversized role in the domestic and foreign affairs of the country. The claim has been rejected by the prime minister and the army.

‘Double The Problems’

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Islamabad a $6 billion, three-year bailout package in 2019 that was intended to shore up Pakistan's public finances and strengthen its economy.

Pakistan has faced years of slow economic growth, dwindling foreign-exchange reserves, and increasing budget and trade deficits.

Anger Over Soaring Inflation In Pakistan As Opposition Launches National Protests
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Since it was granted the bailout, Islamabad has slashed food and energy subsidies, attempted to increase tax collection, and devaluated the national currency -- the rupee -- to meet IMF provisions.

But the move has fueled rising inflation and increased the prices of energy and food -- the two most sensitive items for most consumers, experts say.

Inflation in Pakistan was 9 percent in September, an increase from 8.4 percent in August, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The Economist magazine has ranked Pakistan's overall inflation rate as the fourth highest in the world.

On October 15, Khan’s government raised electricity and fuel prices again following talks with the IMF over the release of a $1 billion loan tranche.

Shaukat Yousafzai, labor and culture minister in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says the price increases for diesel, petrol, and daily food items were in line with those on the international market. He also blamed previous governments for the inflation.

But Meraj ul Haq, a lecturer of economics at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, says Khan's government has failed to fulfill its promises of boosting the economy.

Khan came to power promising to end corruption, help middle-class families, and get the country's faltering economy on track. He also pledged to free the country from the “clutches” of the IMF. But in a major blow, his government was forced to turn to the IMF for a bailout.

Haq says if the government and the IMF agreed on a new loan instalment, then the authorities will have to reduce or scrap subsidies on several daily-use items, which in turn will result in further price hikes.

A man listens to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the nation on television in Karachi.
A man listens to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the nation on television in Karachi.

"This will further increase prices and will double the problems of the common person," Haq says.

The government’s decision to devalue the rupee -- another IMF provision -- has also fueled the price hikes, economists say.

The rupee has plunged more than 20 percent over the past year. On October 26, it hit a record low of 175 against the U.S. dollar.

Mehtab Haidar, a Pakistani analyst and economy reporter, says the “massive devaluation” has contributed to “multiplying the prices of basic commodities.”

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Pakistan’s economic woes. In April, the IMF approved $1.39 billion in emergency financing to Pakistan to help it address the economic impact of the pandemic.

People receive free food during the fasting month of Ramadan in Peshawar on April 29.
People receive free food during the fasting month of Ramadan in Peshawar on April 29.

Over 25,000 people have died of the virus in Pakistan, according to official figures. There have been nearly 1.3 million positive cases.

'It's Getting Difficult To Survive'

The government’s economic policies have had a direct impact on the lives of millions of Pakistanis.

Gul Nabi works as a daily wage employee at a mechanic shop near the northwestern city of Peshawar. He says he continues to earn an average daily income of 500 rupees ($3), while the price for a 20-kilogram sack of flour has gone from 1,100 rupees ($6.5) to 1,400 rupees ($8) over the past month.

“The prices of other commodities such as cooking oil, tea, sugar, pulses, and medicines have also increased manifold during the past six months,” he says.

Shahid Afzal, a laborer who loads trucks at marble excavation sites in northern Pakistan, is a father of five.

“I used to buy a 20-kilogram sack of wheat flour every 15 days,” he says. “But with the recent hike, I cannot afford it.”

“It's getting difficult to survive,” he adds. “We are living in misery.”