If there's one food item that is precious to the people of Pakistan, it's tea. And when someone tells a Pakistani to stop having tea or reduce the amount of tea they drink, you can bet there's going to be trouble. Cue Ahsan Iqbal telling people to reduce their consumption of tea by two cups a day to save money.
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal spoke to the media on Tuesday and urged Pakistanis to reduce their consumption of tea in order to reduce the burden on the country's foreign exchange reserves. "Because the tea we import we [have to] borrow to import it," he told reporters outside an accountability court.
Until the country independently produces its own tea, he urged the nation to avoid all the items on which precious resources are spent until the economic crisis is overcome.
According to former special assistant to the prime minister on food security Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, Pakistan has 178,000 acres of tea cultivable land. “Pakistan can grow its own tea,” he said in 2021. But it isn't.
Tea is among the top five food items that Pakistan imports, spending around $500 million on it last year (2021-22). Despite research pointing out that Pakistan has a sizeable area of land suitable for tea cultivation, past governments have not taken major initiatives to grow tea in the country. A 25,000-acre project is still in the pipeline and the potential of land that could be cultivated for tea production is even more than that. But for now, the country grows tea on 50 acres of land in Shinkiari in Mansehra district and produces about 10 tonnes of black and green tea.
It was a no-brainer that Iqbal's comments weren't going to sit well with people. At a time when fuel prices, electricity prices and the price of just about everything is soaring, people being told they can't enjoy a simple cup of tea wasn't what they wanted to hear.
People fear a civil war.
It's definitely a red line for a lot of people.
Someone had some very important notes.
Most people straight up refused.
Many took it very seriously.
But jokes aside — this is a very serious issue. At a time when the ordinary Pakistani has very little left in terms of luxury, for a politician to be telling them to rid themselves of the small luxury they have in a simple cup of chai is the icing on the cake.
There are many other ways for the government to cut costs — starting with its officials' own salaries and benefits. There's already an extensive import ban, why must the people suffer even more? And at a time when people are barely surviving amidst rising inflation, why is the burden of the successive governments' failures being pushed onto the people?