Pakistan and Its Incessant Troubles

One Year in Office: Revisiting Imran Khan's Foreign Policy – South Asian  Voices

by Rajesh Kumar Sinha     30 December 2020

Not very long ago, politicians, media, and people in Pakistan were fond of repeatedly claiming the pride of being the lone Islamic Nuclear Power. Things have gone totally awry now. Pakistan today is in the global limelight for all the unpleasant reasons. For not being let off from the FATF Grey List, sudden frosty relationship with the Arab world, political instability, coming of Pakistan army under unusual fire at home, Covid-19 crisis and the continuous decline of the economy are the reasons that continue to hog headlines for Pakistan.

To begin with the domestic political front, the so-called democratic polity has been reduced to a state of incessant political turmoil. The PM Imran Khan is repeatedly being described as the ‘puppet PM’ of the Pakistan Army. The incumbent PM has done everything to reinforce the view further. From giving a perceived ‘illegal extension’ to the current army chief, General Bajwa, to virtually let it dictate diplomacy, foreign, defence, and domestic politics, Imran Khan has done nothing to project his politico-administrative control over the country.

Unlike previous anti-government demonstrations in Pakistan’s domestic politics, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a conglomerate loose group of all major opposition parties-led rallies, is different. The difference is visible in the context that for the first time, the most powerful politico-institutional force, the Pakistan army, too, is being dragged and criticised publicly. It has thus become an explicit part of the political discourse in the country. Rallies, protests, and demands for resignation from the PM, in the midst of mammoth crowds have added to political uncertainty and drama.

Since the 1960s, the Pakistan army has played the most important role in protecting its territorial sovereignty. At the same time, it has dominated domestic politics by controlling decision-making in foreign policy and defense domains. However, in June 2018 elections, it went ahead and even appointed a PM of choice, which otherwise did not have a pan-Pakistan following and credible majority.

Unlike the other two major political parties, Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Nawaz Sharief and Bhuttos-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is far from having a credible national presence. Neither in the 30-months of his governance, Khan has done anything to prove his administrative, diplomatic, and economic acumen to create a real sense of hope and vision among countrymen.

One of the big electoral promises to get the country rid of corruption, Imran Khan’s closest politico-administrative advisers Razak Dawood and Nadeem Babar, have alleged huge corruption Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report. Besides the involvement of Pakistani individuals, the 278-page report has also described in detail irregularities perpetuated to the tune of US$1.6 Billion by the Chinese entities in the much-touted CPEC project.

The extraordinarily close relationship with China and the CPEC project flaunted personally by PM to change Pakistan’s future have failed significantly. Out of the 122 projects identified, only 32 have made substantial progress while work on most of the rest either is at a nascent level or not yet commenced.

Economically, Pakistan’s story, too, is critical. According to reports of the Pakistani think tank, Institute of Policy Reforms (IPR), Pakistan’s Debt to GDP ratio currently stands at an abysmal 107% of GDP. The Gross Public Debt has risen from 72% of GDP at US$95 Billion (2018) to 87% at US$112.8 billion currently. Total external debts and liabilities have risen from 33% of GDP (2018) to 45% of GDP (2020). In just last fiscal till June 2020, the country has added a total of PKR4.3 trillion to debt figures, comprising 10.4% of its GDP. Even the meagre forex reserve of US$12Billion, media reports have attributed includes a significant component of borrowings by the SBP.

With international aid virtually non-existent, the inefficient and corruption-ridden Pakistan has made matters even worse. A recent review of various projects funded by multilateral agencies/countries like ADB, World Bank, US, Japan, Germany termed eight of the 14 key projects as problematic. Hence, out of the committed US$3.42 Billion for them, almost 89% of the funds could not be disbursed. The suspended IMF loan of US$6 Billion is yet to be resumed due to Pakistan’s lack of economic reforms.

The Imran Khan-led government has done what no government could do since its inception on the global scene. It has made relations with the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and UAE, so bad that after providing easy loans in cash and oil/petroleum, it asked the country to return it before the schedule. And Pakistan has been forced to return part of the said loan after borrowing from China, reportedly at much higher rates than prevalent globally.

In international relations, Pakistan has good relations with countries like Turkey and China and decent working relations with Iran. In changing contemporary geopolitics, it in a cohort with China is trying to wean Russia away from India. It is difficult to predict how far that will happen, but given Russia’s trust deficit with China, if it will go all the way towards China, it is improbable. As for its relations with Turkey, until the current level of cordiality remains, it needs to be seen given the constant flip-flops in Erdogan’s policies.

Pakistan’s relations with India, its closest neighbour have reached a nadir during Khan’s tenure. Islamabad’s current ruling elite has estimated India’s resolve, economic and political strength, and diplomacy. Most importantly, the personalised attacks on PM Modi and a no-return public posture on Kashmir have created a peculiar situation that Imran Khan will find difficult to manage.

A blanket no recognition public declaration has left the Pakistan government with few options on Israel. By publicly admitting tremendous pressure to recognise Israel, Imran Khan is trying to create some manoeuvring space for himself and ultimately likely to establish diplomatic relations with it. The fact remains that he himself is responsible for this catch-22 situation.

So, all in all, it is not a very pleasant situation that Pakistan finds itself in today. Politically, economically, diplomatically, and internationally, it is discussed as a most likely candidate to fall into a debt trap. Further, increasing dependence on China has resulted in its greater control by the bigger neighbour. Issues are being raised on the eroding political, economic, and strategic autonomy that Pakistan today faces, especially vis-à-vis relations with China. Such developments are a clear pointer suggesting a gradually diminishing future role of Pakistan’s consequence in the future.

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