Former finance minister Miftah Ismail speaks at an event at Habib University.

Former finance minister Miftah Ismail said on Monday Pakistan is “intolerant as hell” and “belligerently uneducated” as the elite capture of resources has left no space for reforms.

Speaking at Habib University, the businessman-turned-politician wore the hat of an economics professor to talk to students in the uneasy presence of the educational institute’s rich benefactors who have “invented their own economies” in an otherwise poor country.

He referred to the families of the Dawoods and Habibs — some of their members sat in the front row — as evidence of poor upward social mobility in Pakistan. They’re the richest Pakistanis of today just like their fathers were the richest Pakistanis of yesteryear, he said. “What shot at success does the son of an ordinary Pakistani have against my son?” he asked, rhetorically.

Mr Ismail’s address mostly consisted of views and anecdotes that he’s already told many times over — word for word, in some cases — since his latest five-month stint at the top of the finance ministry. He reiterated the I-saved-Pakistan-from-default message while calling the idea of the finance ministry controlling the exchange rate “nuts”.

His hour-long talk was salted with the seasoning of doom and gloom. Pakistan will likely be a country for the top one percent even in 2047, he said. “Which problem have we ever solved?” he said while referring to the decades-old issues of low literacy, terrorism and the circular debt that still plague the nation of 220 million.

Responding to a question about the likelihood of the country receiving climate reparations — dollars that the world’s biggest polluters are supposed to give to developing nations for suffering the consequences of climate change — Mr Ismail said their likelihood was minimal.

Quoting from two meetings he had with a group of ambassadors from European nations, Mr Ismail said the country shouldn’t be expecting any climate reparations whatsoever. “Pakistan isn’t a well-liked country, to put it diplomatically,” he said.

He made a strong case for privatising the twin gas distribution companies, which were losing one-fifth of their supplies under the head of unaccounted-for gas (UFG). “The issue of UFG will be solved within one year if you privatise the two companies,” he said while implying that their directors lack the so-called skin in the game to bring about any real change in the state-owned enterprises.

Mr Ismail gave assurances that the central bank was going to penalise eight commercial banks that were caught manipulating the exchange rate to make billions in profit while he sat at the helm of the finance ministry.

Replying to a question, the former finance minister acknowledged the outsized role of the military in politics. “It isn’t a good thing. The influence of the military must come down over the years,” he said.


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