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A senior Pakistani minister is facing the wrath of Twitter for urging people to reduce the number of their daily cups of chai [tea] — a beloved beverage — saying that lesser consumption will help the government in curtailing the country’s import bill.
Ahsan Iqbal said on Tuesday: “I appeal to the nation to reduce tea intake by one or two cups daily because we borrow money for tea import as well.”
In 2020, Pakistan was the leading tea importing country in the world, with imports valued at approximately $590m.
After this statement, social media went berserk with reactions to Mr Iqbal, with some demanding a “petition to cancel Ahsan Iqbal instead of chai.”
Mr Iqbal suggested that traders could also close their tea stalls at 8.30pm local time to save electricity.
With the rising economic crisis in Pakistan, last month the federal government also banned the import of around 41 items for two months to forestall a looming default. Local reports said that the measures were too little too late as it would contain the import bill by hardly $600mn or less than 5 per cent of projected imports.
The Express Tribune reported that this decision hit the imports of cars, mobile phones, cosmetics, cigarettes, food products, certain garments and toiletries.
Pakistan, at the moment, is struggling with huge debt, soaring inflation and a worsening energy crisis. In fact, several parts of Pakistan are experiencing planned blackouts for several hours as Europe takes up massive portions of global supplies of natural gas in a bid to stop using Russian fuel. These blackouts are also creating a threat to the new government of prime minister Shehbaz Sharif.
In April this year, a power official told Dawn newspaper: “With increasing temperatures, the total shortfall is ranging between 7,000 to 8,000MW, and it may surge further if the hot and dry weather persists in the coming days.” Mr Sharif tweeted ahead of the Eid holidays last month that he was “acutely aware” of the hardships people face.
Did Ahsan Iqbal really ask the nation to cut down on chai? Did he honestly really ask us for that? Do they really think we're that stupid
— سعد راٹھور (@saadjamil36) June 14, 2022
A week ago, the Pakistan government even tried to issue a raft of energy-saving measures, including trimming the work week by a day, in an attempt to cut down on fuel consumption.
Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have plummeted since February — from around $16bn to less than $10bn in the first week of June. Experts say that this is barely enough to cover the cost of two months of all its imports.
Meanwhile, the reactions to Mr Iqbal’s comments continued unabated on Twitter. One user wrote: “Did Ahsan Iqbal really ask the nation to cut down on chai? Did he honestly really ask us for that? Do they really think we’re that stupid (sic)?”
Another user commented: “Ahsan Iqbal urging the nation to cut down on chai im [sic] sorry but I can not be a part of this [sic].”