Pakistan: Besieged on All Fronts
The Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent events that included the IAF’s airstrike on Pakistan’s Balakot and an aerial dogfight between the two air forces have changed the political atmosphere in the election-bound India. As a result, the threat posed by Pakistan to India’s national security has once again taken center stage in the political discourse in India. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign revolved around national security issues. We Indians always suspect the actions and intentions of Pakistan as it has a policy of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” through its proxy war. Against the backdrop of these events, it is necessary to peer through our neighbor’s socio-political and economic condition to know how the situation may evolve in the future.
Insurmountable economic problems:
Pakistan is facing numerous problems and it is besieged on all fronts. Its immediate challenge is economic as it is in dire economic straits. Its foreign exchange reserves have dwindled, the growth rate has slowed down, current account deficit has widened, inflation level has almost touched double digits, the unemployment rate is growing, the value of its rupee is plunging continuously, its industry is in doldrums and its exports have fallen flat.
Even after borrowing billions of dollars from friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia, China and the UAE, it approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the 13th time to get yet another bailout. The long drawn out negotiations for a paltry 6-billion-dollar bailout concluded just recently and the conditionalities for which it agreed to are yet to see the light.
Pakistan’s wealthy elite, who mostly include politicians and military generals, became notorious for their greed and tax evasion. It appears that the elite have already concluded that Pakistan is a sinking ship and are parking their wealth abroad.
Naya Pakistan and structural adjustment:
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, who came to power on the grandiose plank of “Naya Pakistan” is facing the herculean task of putting the nation’s economy back on track. His dream of a Naya Pakistan is based on building a welfare state, where the poor and the underprivileged get a lot of sops and assistance especially in the fields of health, education, housing and employment. With that view in mind, he launched many welfare programs such as Sehat Insaf Card and Naya Pakistan Housing Program. Many analysts doubt whether he will be able to implement all these programs considering the severe financial crisis Pakistan is facing. And, moreover, the IMF, from whom they are going to borrow money, will arm-twist Pakistan to implement its structural adjustment program.
It is a well-known fact that the IMF’s structural adjustment is completely against any sops and welfarism. It calls all the welfarism as mere populism and forces its borrowers to leave their economies to be governed by the market forces. If that happens under the current situation, the lives of the poor and the ordinary, which are already distressed from rising inflation and unemployment, will become agonizingly difficult. Now the major challenge faced by Pakistan is to persuade the people not to take to streets and silently bear the agony. Will Imran Khan be able to keep the already fragmented Pakistan calm in the face of mounting frustration and anger?
A multitude of other problems:
Pakistan’s relations with almost all its neighbors – India, Afghanistan and Iran – are getting increasingly strained. Its economic dependence on other countries such as Saudi Arabia and China may drag it into further conflicts. Saudi Arabia, for example, is trying to use Pakistan as a proxy in its conflict against Iran. The USA, in the same manner, wants to use it to pave way for an honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is pushing Pakistan deep into debt and it may be forced to cede some of its territory and infrastructure to China in case it fails to repay CPEC debt just like how it happened with Hambantota port in Sri Lanka.
The prospect of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklisting Pakistan for its reluctance to curb terror financing hangs like the sword of Damocles over its head.
Even Pakistan’s socio-political situation is not good. The sectarian violence which remained subdued for some time now is rising its heads. The recent bomb blasts targeting Hazaras and Sufi shrines is a manifestation of the fact that sectarianism refuses to die down. The violent separatism in Baluchistan is also causing its share of the bloodshed.
Readying for an impending storm:
So, all indications point towards Pakistan plunging deeper into a crisis. With its ultra-conservative and anger-filled society, its innumerable madrasas which are notorious for indoctrinating the youth and the terror training camps that groom youth for Jihad, Pakistan looks like a nation that is readying itself for an impending storm. Only time will tell whether it will be able to sail through this crisis and preserve its identity. But if it fails, it may become a land of instability which may end up radiating more terror and violence all over the world, especially in its neighborhood. Already there are apprehensions that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists in case it slips into chaos, which may lead to a catastrophic situation.
Though Imran Khan sounds well-intentioned, even he might be knowing that things are beyond his control. It appears that he is introducing populist schemes and making right noises merely to ensure the longevity of his tenure and to soften the impact of the impending unrest.
Under these circumstances India needs to be more vigilant as the rulers of Pakistan and its army may resort to more troublesome actions in future to distract the attention away from their domestic problems. India has so far acted cleverly and firmly by calling its nuclear bluff through the air strike and by putting concerted efforts to isolate it in the international arena.