Crowdsourcing for funding dams, selling buffaloes and cars to boost exchequer reserves and continually seeking bailouts from old allies like Saudi Arabia appear to be Prime Minister Imran Khan’s economic policy. On his recent trip to Riyadh to attend the Saudi investment conference, Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to secure a $ 6 bn bailout package from Saudi Arabia, an immediate $3 bn infusion to bolster Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves— a loan Pakistan has to return after one year – and $3bn in oil imports on a “buy now pay later” basis.
This is Khan’s third visit to Saudi Arabia in just as many months as Prime Minister. He attended the high-profile conference despite calls from Pakistani human rights activists to join many other countries in boycotting the conference to protest the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
According to the Washington Post, “In a televised address Wednesday, Khan said he secured a “great package” from Saudi Arabia. He said Pakistan was at risk of going into default if it did not secure aid from friendly countries as well as the IMF, and that without the Saudi aid, the country would have had to seek a much larger bailout from the global lender.”
As Imad Zafar states in ‘The desperate begging bowl is no longer metaphorical,’ “Throughout his electoral campaign and even after assuming power, Imran Khan constantly maintained that the biggest hindrance towards Pakistan’s development is debt servicing and taking external loans. In his first speech to the nation, Imran reiterated this and promised not to beg anyone for loans or help.”
Yet in an interview to Middle East Eye before Khan went to Riyadh, the Pakistani Prime Minister stated that his country was “desperate” and needed Saudi largesse. “The reason I feel I have to avail myself of this opportunity is because in a country of 210 million people right now we have the worst debt crisis in our history. Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF [International Monetary Fund], we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment.”
This, Zafar, asserts “s an embarrassment for the entire nation that our prime minister not only refused to condemn what is one of the worst human rights violations in recent memory, but also openly admitted that we are “desperate”. The begging bowl is no longer metaphorical, and now that we have taken their money, we cannot utter a word against Saudi Arabia or its inhumane crimes. Is this the philosophy of the current government? If we have a monetary interest from any country, we will turn a blind eye towards all atrocities, the way we have when it comes to Khashoggi, and the way we have to the thousands of dead bodies in Yemen.”
Veteran journalist, Ejaz Haider, message for Imran Khan “To sum up: Mr. Prime Minister, do not ad-lib; do not go anywhere without hard preparation; stick to the prepared text; if you aren’t interested in a particular area, delegate to whoever knows it best.” This is because you cannot “Begin by telling everyone that you are ‘desperate’? Should that be your opening hand? It’s not about keeping something secret. Everyone knows Pakistan needs money and the economy is tanking. So, that’s not the point here. The point is how do you approach the table? As someone who declares, before any negotiations have begun, that he is desperate? Or, as someone with a plan, someone who knows his own weaknesses but also that of the other side in order to create space for himself to negotiate?”
The $6 bn package from Saudi Arabia alone is not enough to solve Pakistan’s massive problems, it involves unnecessary moral compromise, it might drag Pakistan into the Yemen conflict, and it is strange that the Prime Minister is bragging about borrowing.