Naya Pakistan will remain Purana Pakistan unless and until the fundamentals are changed and key among them are the economic fundamentals of our country. According to the latest figures issued by the Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund, Pakistan’s economy is forecast to grow at only 4.8%, whereas the target was 6.2%.
This “sharp deceleration” comes along with a rise in core inflation and current account deficit. According to an Editorial in Dawn “this is the second downward revision of the State Bank’s forecast for economic growth, and the second rise in the forecast for core inflation. Not only that, the current account deficit continued to rise in the first two months of the fiscal year, despite the strong growth in workers’ remittances and exports. In large measure, the difficulties on the external account front are the product of rising oil prices, but equally significantly, they are the result of pressing ahead with a type of growth that the economy was unable to afford. The net result is a decline in foreign reserves by $800m compared to the first two months of the last fiscal year.”
Further, “agriculture sector is now expected to grow at around 3 per cent rate – as against the original target of 3.8 per cent. The industrial output has been projected close to 5.8 per cent against 7.6 per cent original target. The services sector – that contributes nearly 60 per cent in the total national output – may also slowdown to nearly 5.7 per cent.”
If the Finance Minister wants to make a difference, he will need to “not only chart a difficult course into the future,” but persuade “those around him, including his colleagues and stakeholders in the economy, that the bitter pill is the only one on the menu.”
Pakistan ranks low on most indices of press freedom and freedom of expression. As if to reinforce this view of arbitrary injustice, on Monday September 24, the Lahore High Court issued an arrest warrant against well-known journalist and editor of Dawn, Cyril Almeida.
Almeida was accused of treason for a story that he had filed in May of this year in which former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been quoted speaking out against his country’s handling of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The court also placed Almeida’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL), preventing him from leaving the country.
In the same judgement the court also summoned both Sharif and his successor as prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, for charges of treason relating to the same article.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan released a statement that it was “greatly perturbed to learn that the Lahore High Court has issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for journalist Cyril Almeida, requiring him to appear at the next hearing of a case seeking action against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on charges of treason.”
Further, the HRCP “termed the court’s decision ‘regrettable’, adding that ‘Mr Almeida, a widely read and highly respected journalist, is being hounded for nothing more than doing his job – speaking on the record to a political figure and reporting the facts. As a law-abiding citizen, Mr Almeida has no reason not to appear before the court as directed. Placing him on the Exit Control List (ECL) and issuing a non-bailable warrant is an excessive measure. ‘The ease with which Mr Almeida’s interview with the former Prime Minister was perceived as an attempt to allegedly defame state institutions, and the pace at which this has spiraled into charges of treason, only serve to further choke press freedom in Pakistan. Journalism – sensible, rational, independent journalism – is not a crime. It most certainly is not treason. HRCP strongly urges the honorable court to give Mr Almeida the opportunity to appear at the scheduled hearing of his own volition and to have his name removed from the ECL immediately.”’
Premier Imran Khan believes that his celebrity status and popularity in the subcontinent and beyond will ensure that any other leaders (and countries) are simply waiting with baited breaths for any policy decision he makes and will automatically accept his offers.
During his electoral campaign, Khan repeatedly denigrated Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to build ties with India, referring to Sharif as ‘Modi ka yaar.’ Now that he is in power, Khan realizes what every Premier does that you need better ties with your neighbors.
Three weeks after his electoral victory and a few weeks after the congratulatory letter that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Khan, Imran Khan sent a letter on September 14 requesting a restart of a dialogue between the two countries through an initial meeting of the two foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) meetings in NYC next week.
In response, Delhi accepted what it referred to as “talks not dialogue” with a meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
The killing of three special police officers in Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir by the terror group Hizbul Mujahideen following the brutal torture and killing of an Indian border (BSF) guard and the issuing of stamps celebrating the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani led to political backlash within India and resulted in the Indian government cancelling the meeting and issuing a statement.
Imran Khan at once took to twitter to tweet his anger at the Indian response and the Pakistani Foreign Office registered their protest as well.
This tit for tat will continue till Pakistan understands that if it wants to improve ties with its neighbors – India and Afghanistan – and with other countries it will need to stop supporting jihadis which currently seems improbable.
The ways of a celebrity are different from the ways of someone in high office. The first thirty days in office of Prime Minister Imran Khan are however proving that he has not understood that he is no longer the captain of the cricket team but the prime minister of a 200 million strong country. His government’s policies both domestic – crowdfunding for building a dam or selling cars to build government resources – and foreign have only brought ridicule to our nation.
In a scathing piece The Guardian recently referred to Mr Khan’s first thirty days in power as “Climbdowns, cheese and crowdfunding.” The article referred to the “promise” by Mr Khan to “grant citizenship to the Pakistani-born children of the country’s roughly 2.5 million Afghan refugees” and then “after strong push-back by nationalists, the military and his own coalition partners, the prime minister U-turned. “No decision had been made” on citizenship, Khan said in a speech to parliament.”
On the economic front, Pakistan has a £13.5bn current account deficit and yet instead of hard policies “Initial brain-storming sessions however have done little more than to produce a much-mocked proposal to ban imports of cheese, alongside mobile phones and cars.”
Further, both Mr Khan and the Chief Justice of Pakistan are involved in “an almost certainly futile effort to crowdfund the construction of an £11bn dam in the north-east. The project has led to an atmosphere of near-hysteria: Pakistanis overseas have been asked to each donate $1,000, children in tribal areas have been told to donate their lunch money, while the chief justice has threatened doubters with trial for treason. Yet, even at the current rate of feverish donation, it would take more than 100 years to raise the capital. Misleading the population to believe it was possible to crowd-fund such an infrastructure project was “willfully squandering a massive asset in Pakistan … a groundswell of love for country”, says political commentator Fasi Zaka.”
While a “drastic improvement in relations with the military is the party’s clearest impact on Pakistan’s politics so far” yet the Guardian piece warns “Military support may afford the PTI plenty of leeway, analysts say. But the defenders of the nation cannot shield the party forever from the sky-high expectations of the public.”
Continuing an old tradition going back to the 1970s, Prime Minister Imran Khan, went to Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip. During his two-day trip Khan called on King Salman, Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman and also attended a state banquet.
With Pakistan’s economy in the doldrums, the country once again is turning to its two faithful allies – Saudi Arabia and China – seeking aid in order to avoid having to go to the IMF for the 13th time.
Soon after Pakistan’s 1998 nuclear tests when Pakistan faced crippling sanctions, Saudi Arabia offered Pakistan oil on deferred payments but there was a tacit understanding that Pakistan would be there for the Saudis when required.
In earlier decades, Saudi Arabia has deposited money in Pakistan’s exchequers to help the government tide over shortage of foreign exchange reserves. The Saudis did this in 2014 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took over power. But at that time Pakistan had promised to send its troops whenever Riyadh requested. However, when the time came, we backed off and did not send our troops. The Saudi displeasure has been evident, clearly visible in their deepening ties with India.
If the current government would like Saudi Arabia to either offer deferred oil payments or deposit money in our exchequers, then what are we willing to do in exchange? Are we willing to send troops to Yemen?
And even if we say we will send troops, why would Saudi Arabia trust us this time round and give us money before Pakistani troops show up? We should understand their frustration too. Why promise what we cannot deliver?