Waging the data war.

Byline: Fahd Husain

WHEN data starts to drive discussion, politics becomes even messier than usual. In Pakistan today, numbers, figures, graphs and charts are speaking louder than words. But are the people absorbing this alien language?

On Friday Prime Minister Imran Khan declared triumphantly that Pakistan was faring better than India economically and was on the path to progress. He cited the 3.9 per cent growth rate as evidence that the country was finally getting on track and the change he had promised was becoming visible. The PM's words reflect the new narrative that the PTI government is now pushing aggressively, and it is centred on the economy gaining health. But there's more to this economic narrative than mere figures and numbers.

To better understand the game, one needs to see what the opposition has been doing recently. While the PML-N and PPP may be clawing at each other's throats, they remain united in their characterisation of the PTI government as 'selected' and 'incompetent'. It is no secret that the government has struggled to deliver effective and coherent governance - especially in the Punjab - and is now burdened with the baggage of this mal-governance both in reality and perception. The successive defeats in the by-elections have substantiated the grim impression that the electorate is unhappy with the PTI.

The government tried but somehow could not create a convincing narrative that it was doing at least some things right. Its army of ministers and spokespersons filled hundreds of hours with press conferences and statements extolling the virtues of projects like Ehsaas, health cards, Naya Pakistan housing scheme as well as 'wealth creation' schemes like the Lahore business district and the islands project off the coast of Karachi. Nothing worked. The reason was simple: food inflation remained out of control and unemployment wreaked pain in households across the country. High-sounding macroeconomic indicators mean little when your grocery and utilities bills are telling their own torturous story.

To better understand the game, one needs to see what the opposition has been doing recently

The opposition pressed hard on this wound on the government's body. Every time it drew blood. It was becoming obvious to the government that the only way it could succeed in neutralising - or at best diluting - the deadly perception of incompetence and mal-governance was to show some progress that was quantifiable, marketable and...

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