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Pakistan’s finance minister says the country has avoided a Sri Lanka-like default crisis

Pakistan’s finance minister said the government has taken steps that will put the country on the right track and help the South Asian nation avoid an economic collapse. But that will cause pain for its people, he added.

The country is desperately fighting for its survival as the recent rise in commodity and energy prices have exacerbated its debt problems. It has been struggling to pay for its imports as its official liquid foreign exchange reserves shrank by $754 million to $8.57 billion in the week ended July 22, according to the country’s central bank data.

“There were serious worries about Pakistan heading Sri Lanka’s way, Pakistan getting into a default-like situation, but thankfully, we’ve made some significant changes. We’ve brought in significant austerity, black belt tightening. And I think we’ve averted that situation,” Miftah Ismail told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday.

“We are now in an IMF program. We have reached the staff-level agreement. We expect to get a board approval later this month. We’ve taken off subsidies from fuel, from power … We’ve raised taxes. So, I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Nevertheless, Ismail acknowledged that recent measures taken by the government will be difficult for Pakistan and would mean a lot of pain for the people.

“But look at the alternative. If we had gone the Sri Lankan way this would have been much worse,” the minister said.

Debt crisis

Pakistan is facing a serious debt crisis similar to foreign exchange shortage problems that has plagued its South Asian neighbor Sri Lanka this year.

Sri Lanka has been battling shortages of food and fuel amid the worst economic crisis since the island nation’s independence in 1948. The country has defaulted on its debt and has asked for relief from the International Monetary Fund.

But unlike Sri Lanka, Pakistan was able to avert bankruptcy by striking a deal with the IMF in July. The country reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF to restart their stalled extended fund facility.

Islamabad will get a first tranche of $1.17 billion from the IMF in the coming weeks, with further loans possible in the months ahead.

“Pakistan is at a challenging economic juncture. A difficult external environment combined with procyclical domestic policies fueled domestic demand to unsustainable levels,” the IMF said in a statement.

“IMF has identified a $4 billion funding gap, which is to say that IMF wants our reserves to increase by $6 billion during this very challenging fiscal year,” Ismail said. “And of that $6 billion, it says that we have $2 billion and we should try and get $4 billion from our friends. We are mostly there and I think that within a day or two we’ll actually have that number.”

Tackling inflation

In July, Pakistan’s headline inflation soared to 24.93% year on year, according to official data — the highest level since October 2008.

In his budget speech in June, the finance minister highlighted that the government aimed to lower prices by using monetary and fiscal policy in a better way.

“I think that wheat prices are coming down, commodity prices are coming down. Core inflation in Pakistan is still about 12 or 13%, no matter what the headline number is,” Ismail told CNBC.

“We’ve stopped monetary expansion. Our interest rates are quite high now, I think. We should be able to bring back inflation to about where the core inflation is,” he added.

The government needed to curtail its imports to bring down oil demand for energy-related items such as fuel and petrol, the finance minister said.

“Now that the imports have come down, the pressure has eased against the Pakistani rupee. In fact, its appreciated about 7% against the U.S. dollar last week. We will see now inflation really taper off,” he said.

Looking ahead, Ismail said, it is “very difficult” to give a time frame for when things will improve for Pakistan, though he added that prospects are bright for the economy in the coming months.

“I should think that in the second quarter of this fiscal year, which starts in October, we should be able to get handle of the economy. Our three months number of current account deficits will have come down. Markets will have more belief in our austerity measures. And things will start looking better.”

Is Pakistan Breaking from Within

The newly formed Pakistan Government has sought out a bail-out package from International Monetary Fund (IMF) to steer through the looming Balance of Payment (BOP) Crisis. Prime Minister Imran Khan has reportedly asked for Pakistan’s largest bail-out package of $8 billion from IMF. It is already under the ‘debt-trap’ of China for building its part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China has reportedly lent $5 billion to Pakistan in 2017-18 which Pakistan has failed to payback as yet. When these economic woes are seen in conjunction with the internal instability in Pakistan and its relations with its neighbours, they become all the more troublesome.

Most worryingly for Pakistan, ever since India has shifted its defence policy from ‘defensive offense’ to ‘offensive defence’, many significant changes have been taking place in Pakistan in the last 4 years. In this article, all these changes have been discussed in detail. Before we delve into an in-depth analysis, let us first understand how India has shifted its gear as far as dealing with Pakistan is concerned.

From ‘Defensive Offence’ to ‘Offensive Defence’

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed Ajit Doval as his National Security Advisor (NSA), India has moved towards a policy of ‘Offensive Defence’. Though there is less clarity on what it literally means, it can be understood from the recent methods like surgical strike towards tackling terrorism, especially sponsored by Pakistan.

For far too long, India has maintained ‘restraint’ towards Pakistan’s unofficial policy of ‘bleeding India through thousand cuts’. India’s pacified approach reached its height when India remained silent after one of the biggest terror attacks on its soil, that is, on 26/11 in Mumbai. But, recently, India has gone beyond and unleashed a surgical strike on terror launch pads in Pakistan which denoted its resolve to attack where it hurts the most.

As a part of the above strategy, PM Modi has raised its India’s concerns against Pakistan sponsored terrorism which has resulted in the isolation of Pakistan at the global fora. This increasing isolation of Pakistan along with its home-grown economic and security crisis has reached the tipping point, which is consequently exposing the cracks within it.

Here we analyse the current trends:

Resurging Independence Movements

  • Balochistan Independence Movement – People of Balochistan, a province situated in the south-western part of Pakistan, has been demanding a separate state since a long time (the 1960’s) which has resulted in the Baloch insurgency. However, this insurgency has intensified in the recent times after Pakistan started employing radical ISIS Islamists to crush Baloch separatists. In 2018, a suicide bombing attack killed a prominent Baloch leader Siraj Raisani along with his 150 supporters when he was addressing a rally of Baloch people. Ironically, Mr. Raisani was used as a native proxy by the Pakistani Army. Thus, the use of ISIS radicals in crushing the Baloch movement boomeranged on the state of Pakistan exposing its sheer hollowness. The constant oppression of the state has led to increasing distrust between the Baloch People and the Pakistan Government. Notably, India has also lent its voice for the cause of peaceful resolution of the Baloch movement in recent times.
  • War in Wajiristan (North West Pakistan) – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is one of the four administrative units of Pakistan. It has been a major space of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks on United States of America (USA), as it is in this area that many terrorists’ groups like Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al-Qaeda have flourished. The funds given by USA to Pakistan for an armed operation against the terrorists have been reportedly misused by the Pakistan Army to provide safe harbour to them so that it can keep the neighbouring state of Afghanistan destabilised and seek more funds from USA. After the initial misunderstandings, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been able to successfully bring Afghanistan on India’s side. This has started worrying Pakistan.
  • Sindhudesh and Gilgit-Baltistan – In other parts of Pakistan too, the demand for independence is on the rise. In Gilgit-Baltistan, part of the Indian state but illegally occupied by Pakistan, there is discontentment on two fronts – one is that their counterparts living in India-governed Kashmir are living in much better condition, as the Indian government has been undertaking development rapidly; two is that the rising threat of CPEC which will bring in more Chinese interference in their region. In the Sindhu Province of Pakistan, according to the DAWN newspaper, Jeay Sindh Tehrik (JST) demanded freedom from Pakistani’s occupation. Even the World Sindhi Congress has been asking the Pakistani Government to end the harassment and killings of Sindhi people. In fact, there has been an increase in protests against the Pakistani’s occupation over Sindh in recent times (2017).

Economy

  • Falling Economy:

According to a report by The Express Tribune in a national Pakistan newspaper, the Education Minister of Sindh Province, Jam Mehtab Hussain Dahar said that Pakistan’s economy will collapse in the next 10 years. Economist, Dr Kaiser Bengali supported Dahar’s views on the collapse of Pakistan’s economy. There are certain reasons (mentioned below) that gave rise to such views of Pakistani politicians and economists.

  • Pakistan’s rising imports and falling exports have been increasing the Current Account Deficit (CAD) of the country.
  • Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have been falling rapidly as shown in the below graph. This compounds the problem in the way that Pakistan has less to pay for its imports which are already on the rise (as shown in the above graph).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has single-handedly raised the voice at various global platforms against the state-sponsored terrorism by Pakistan. This has produced some noticeable results which have resulted in the notable isolation of Pakistan. Here are the instances:

  • Boycott by the SAARC countries – In the aftermath of the URI attack, SAARC nations had joined hands with India in boycotting Pakistan.
  • Supporting its alliance with India, USA has cut down its aid to Pakistan saying that it has grossly failed in fighting terrorism. This has sunken USA-Pakistan relations to a new low and exposes the cracks between them.
  • PM Modi has been able to draw Afghanistan closer to India through his diplomacy. As explained above, this has increasingly become another point of contention between India and Pakistan.
  • Pakistan has never had good relation with its other neighbour on the western front – Iran. Iran is a Shia dominated country, while Pakistan is Sunni dominated. This makes both the countries mutually exclusive. Importantly, Pakistan- supported terrorism has caused a great damage to Iran also. Further, India is building the Chabahar Port in Iran which gives India double advantage of enhancing its relationship with Iran as well as bypassing Pakistan to reach Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Pakistan, due to its falling circumstances, has aligned itself to China. However, China has bigger plans and a geo-strategic idea of replicating the USA’s strategy of Marshall Plan to have an influence over Europe and Asia through its One Road One Belt (OROB) initiative. Pakistan is merely a pawn on this grand chessboard of Asia, in this plan.

India along with USA is cornering Pakistan as far Afghanistan is concerned. The neighbouring countries like Iran and Afghanistan do not have much hope from Pakistan either. Most of the countries, even in its extended neighbourhood, such as SAARC or Middle East countries have become all the more suspected of its direct role in spreading terrorism across the world.

Moreover, poverty and unemployment along with its collapsing economy are another area of concern for Pakistan where the army is allocated more funds than anyone. On the top of all this, 3 of total 4 provinces in Pakistan like Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are witnessing the increasing protests and demands for independence. Pakistan looks to have got entangled in its own weaved web.

Sources:

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/08/10/pakistans-finance-minister-says-country-headed-in-right-direction.html

https://www.theweek.in/news/world/2019/08/31/Opinion-why-pakistan-is-heading-towards-implosion.html

https://www.dawn.com/news/1579562

https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2020/12/07/pakistan-has-a-path-out-of-the-abyss-but-will-it-take-it/

http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article16543.html

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