Pakistanis feel crunch of rising prices | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 05, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, April 05, 2019

Pakistanis feel crunch of rising prices

Pakistan's surging petrol prices have more than halved the income of taxi driver Yasir Sultan, just one of many consumers whose faith in a government elected last year on a pledge to help the poor has been shattered.

Inflation at its highest in more than five years has shocked many Pakistanis who voted for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his promise to eradicate poverty, create jobs and build an Islamic welfare state.

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“Imran Khan has said big things about getting rid of poverty, but he isn't erasing poverty. He is erasing the poor,” Sultan, 30, told Reuters. “Sometimes I think I should set this taxi on fire,” he said from behind the wheel of his rundown 1980s-era Suzuki Mehran.

Wrestling with a ballooning current account deficit as it seeks a 13th bailout package from the International Monetary Fund, the government has a hard choice - impose pain now or face a balance of payments crisis that could crash the economy.

Foreign reserves of $8.5 billion are better than the start of the year, but barely cover two months' worth of imports. “Demand compression is part of stabilization to bring down current account and trade deficits,” said Asad Sayeed, an economist at the Collective for Social Science Research.

Inflation was over 9.4 percent in March, its highest since November 2013, with strong increases in food and energy, the two most sensitive items for most consumers.

The central bank forecasts growth at 3.5-4 percent in the 12 months to end June, well off a government target of 6.2 percent. With a large pool of surplus labor keeping wage rises in check, living standards will suffer, Sayeed said.

“I voted for PTI believing in Khan's slogan for the change. Now, I am repenting,” said Sara Salman in the bustling eastern city of Lahore, referring to the prime minister's party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

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