The invitation extended by Pakistan’s external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to his counterpart Bilawal Zardari for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) foreign ministers meeting in May has been interpreted by Pakistani media as a sign of thawing relations with India following Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s offer of dialogue, but the reality on the ground is quite different.
Jaishankar’s invitation letter was sent on December 24, 2022, through diplomatic channels, and PM Sharif made the conditional offer on January 17, 2023, in an interview with a UAE station. India has a responsibility to invite each SCO member in the lead-up to the SCO summit later this year as the SCO President in 2023.
There has been no shift in India’s bilateral position with Pakistan, despite the fact that proponents of India-Pak dialogue and the conflict resolution sector in India have projected a similar picture to their Pakistani counterparts. To communicate and normalize ties, stop cross-border terrorism, is the message.
The easing of Pakistan’s crippling debt is Islamabad’s top priority, given the plight of the economy there and the political unrest in the highly radicalized Islamic Republic. Islamabad has now contacted Washington to persuade the Bretton Woods organization to be lenient on the Islamic Republic as it requires PM Sharif to increase energy bills and impose more taxes to raise money. This is because Islamabad is facing strict IMF conditions for a loan to Pakistan. Such drastic measures would be politically damaging for the current PDM leadership and give Imran Khan Niazi, a raging adversary, a handle.
In addition to running out of money, Pakistan has also ran out of solutions for saving the state, which is rapidly degenerating. Things wouldn’t be as horrible if the economy were the only thing at danger of failing. But in addition to the economy’s collapse, the polity is also deeply divided and tearing the nation apart, social cohesiveness and coherence are broken, and the security situation is out of control due to the Taliban’s aggressiveness.
Since there is no obvious exit for the current system, Pakistan’s poly-crisis is getting worse by the day as one component problem feeds into the others. Simply put, Pakistan is sinking, but the people of Pakistan appear to believe they will survive these trying times because the rest of the world cannot afford to watch them perish. But until and unless Pakistan is prepared to help itself, the world doesn’t seem willing to step in and save the day. However, Pakistanis are more focused on the political circus than the comprehensive economic reforms that could help them escape the predicament they find themselves in.
The economy has reached its lowest point as a result of the excesses of Pakistan’s elite lawmakers, military personnel, civil servants, landed aristocracy, and business and trade organizations, who seized control of the state and its resources. At this moment, the emphasis is on preventing default, which would cause the economy to implode and unleash an unmanageable social and political conflagration in its wake. Although default will undoubtedly bring excruciating anguish, the unrepentant Pakistani elite is attempting to fear the rest of the world in order to keep Pakistan’s economy viable. They are currently using the impending economic crisis as leverage, just as they attempted to use the floods to persuade the international bankers to give them some slack.
In essence, Pakistan is terrorizing the globe by raising the specter of nuclear weapons going awry and radical Islamists rampaging through the country and seizing power in a revolution. Despite how frightening they are, Pakistan is once again exaggerating these worries. Although Pakistanis may romanticize revolution, they lack the stomach for it, especially an Islamic Revolution that would most severely affect elite privilege.
Even so, the economy has reached a standstill. The collapse of the economy will likely be delayed until June 2023 if the IMF program comes back on track by a few months, most likely by the end of the current fiscal year. Over the next six or so months, Pakistan will need about $10 billion. With the help of the IMF program and contributions from the Chinese, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in addition to Qatar’s $2 billion purchase of some assets, they will just about be able to raise this sum. But this will only last through June.
Pakistan will require an additional $30 billion or more in the upcoming fiscal year. Will the same friends never stop contributing money to Pakistan? Already, the IMF is placing extremely strict requirements on the reinstatement of the extended finance facility program. These circumstances will not only be financially disastrous for the populace but also politically disastrous.
Because fuel prices will soar, power rates will increase, and gas prices will soar, inflation is predicted to increase by anywhere between 40 and 50%. The Rupee will also lose value. Currency traders predict that the rupee will fall from its fictitious level of 230 to between 260 and 270 once it is allowed to float. Some economists worry that in a few months, the rupee may surpass the 300 level. Massive inflation, which already hurts, will ensue from this.
Pakistan will need to increase interest rates to rein in inflation. The cost of conducting business will rise to unaffordable and unviable levels as a result. Even worse, any remaining strength in the government’s fiscal position will be destroyed by interest rate increases. Even at the present interest rate of 17%, there is a genuine risk that the cost of servicing the debt will exceed all federal receipts.
Pakistan must accept the harsh reality that default is unavoidable. The question is not if it will happen, but rather when. The only practical choice is to apply for a debt restructuring. However, the fact that it has such strict criteria will make the current IMF conditions appear light, making it almost as catastrophic as a default. However, the political and military establishments in Pakistan have been praying that the storm will miss them.
It is obvious that the generals and Pakistan’s elite do not want to reduce their privileges or spending, but they do want the rest of the nation to be willing to make sacrifices. They demand their royal customs, golf courses, and Dubai vacations; they send their children to Western institutions; they demand outrageous subsidies from the state’s empty coffers; but they deny the common people of Pakistan even the most fundamental right to life.
The Pakistani Army is similarly hesitant to reduce expenses. Pakistan can no longer afford the pricey weapon systems it keeps purchasing. And to make matters worse, it continues its expensive strategic escapades on both sides of the border. Only if the strategic environment improves, relations with India and Afghanistan are normalized without any legacy restrictions, and action is taken against terror organizations based in Pakistan can military budgets be reduced.
However, according to the Rawalpindi GHQ, this isn’t taking place because the military isn’t eager to change the way it thinks about its strategy for dealing with India and Afghanistan. The tactical modifications did open up room in the past. not anymore. As a result of becoming aware of Pakistan’s cunning, New Delhi no longer feels the need to retaliate in kind for Pakistan-only tactical decisions. In any event, the Taliban are now displaying their true colors, and it appears that the western borderlands of Pakistan will continue to be unrest-ridden, unstable, and radicalized as a whole.
The political elite, like the military, is more concerned with protecting its political capital and safeguarding its political future than it is with saving the nation or its future. The political squabbling at a time when the nation is on the point of disintegrating is strange. Imran Khan wants elections held right away, believing he will win. The ruling coalition has nothing with which it can enter the hustings, therefore it wants to put off elections as long as it can. The Army seeks to maintain its position of power despite not wanting to harm democracy. It also opposes Imran Khan regaining power, at least not right now, and is prepared to use whatever means necessary to do so.
For the time being, it appears that the government will sign the agreement and rejoin the IMF program. However, it will begin spending money in a month or two to regain its political backing. This means that Pakistan will be experiencing a crisis that is even worse than the one it is currently experiencing by the time elections are held and a new administration is in place. In other words, anyway you slice it, Pakistan’s economy, along with the country’s current state and political system, are doomed to failure.
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